Hi my name is Robbie Gratton, I’m 22. I live with my wonderful and loving girlfriend in Newcastle, NSW, Australia. I was only recently diagnosed with AS after years of complaints but now I realise that my AS story started long before I had thought. When I was 16 I was an apprentice chef at a local restaurant here in Newcastle and one day my left eye just went red, hot and painful. After hours of being in pain my chef sent me home and told me to get better. The next day I got an emergency appointment with my then GP who said it was nothing but conjunctivitis and I should take some eye drops and rest. I then spent the next three days gradually going blind in my left eye, so I was rushed up to The John Hunter Hospital and was quickly diagnosed with Uveitis and had some bloods sent off to test what had caused the Uveitis and was given a treatment plan to get my eye back in working order. After a few weeks and a steroid injection into my eye itself, my vision had come back and so had the blood results. I had HLA B27. I was a little shocked. The registrar gave me next to no information about what HLA B27 was, what it does or how to treat it. After being off work for a number of weeks I was dismissed and unable to find a new chef to take me on as an apprentice I decided to go to TAFE (Which is Australia’s version of community college) and complete my Higher School Certificate (HSC). While I attended TAFE I always felt tired and sore. I put this down to being just a teenager. Till my second and final year of TAFE my back pain was getting worse and worse so I went and say my now GP and after some X-rays he said that it didn’t seem to be anything wrong with my back and told me it might be muscle strain. When I completed my HSC I was automatically accepted to the University of New England to study a double Arts/Law degree.
In 2008, I moved the 350 km to Armidale NSW to start my studies. It wasn’t long till I started to feel my back constantly ache. Some nights my back would ache so much I wouldn’t be able to sleep, and as a university student I wasn’t adverse to no sleep, just that it was usually due to all-night partying, however, that is another story. I was eventually able to see a GP in Armidale, which wasnt easy at all because Armidale is somewhat a country town, a place where businesses close while their staff go have lunch and where shops aren’t open on Sundays. The GP I saw was nice enough but agreed with my GP from home that it was just muscle strain and I should take ibuprofen when I need to (little did I know how much ibuprofen would actually help).
In 2009, After dropping out of university and returning home I quickly found employment as a door-to-door salesman. I would walk everywhere, for hours, 6 days a week. I was quite successful to the point where I was privately recruited by another marketing company and quickly became a team leader. Around this time I started to feel like I was having to symptoms of a heart attack all the time, shortness of breathe, pain in my left arm and pain in my chest (I would later learn that the pain in my chest was AS related and the rest was me freaking myself out) after frequent trips to the hospital I was dressed down by my then boss in front of the entire office for being a hypochondriac and that I should pull my “head in”. At this time I was also noticing my back was forever hurting so I started to use alcohol as away to dull the pain, seeing as no body could figure out what was wrong with me and I was starting to believe what people were saying about me, I was putting it on, I was playing it up, I was being lazy etc.
In 2010, I left the marketing company and felt as if the pain in my back was getting by far much worse and alcohol wasn’t numbing the pain anymore. So I went back to my GP who diagnosed me with scoliosis and sent me home with some stretching exercises to do. After a few weeks of doing the exercises I just felt like the pain was getting worse so I stopped the exercises and almost over night the pain went away and stayed away long enough for me to think whatever was causing it, was now gone.
In mid 2011 I went back to my GP and told him the back pain was back so he sent me off to get some X-rays and blood tests. After a month or so I was told that I might have a condition called Ankylosing Spondylitis and I would have to go see a rheumatologist. I waited a few more months to see my rheumatologist and was quickly given the diagnosis of AS. My rheumatologist told me all about what I was in for, what to expect from AS. Now I’m waiting to qualify for the TNF injections. I don’t know what the future will bring but I know I’m going to fight AS, I’m going to fight it with everything I’ve got, even if it puts me in a wheelchair. I simply refuse to be an AS sufferer, I am an AS fighter.