“Don’t Hide. This Is Who You Are” – Dentist Fights Rheumatoid Arthritis

“Don’t Hide. This Is Who You Are” – Dentist Fights Rheumatoid Arthritis

When working in a profession where using one’s hands is required, arthritis can be tough, sometimes even unbearable.  For Johanna Ocasio-Heil, a 37 year old dentist and mother of two, arthritis has directly impacted her professionally and personally; hindering her career and causing her to struggle to keep up with her two young sons.

Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in the autumn of 2010, Johanna was shocked when she received her test results.  Being a healthcare provider, she had knowledge of procedures, histories, and conditions in the medical field, but transitioning from doctor to patient was hard to accept.  She was forced to only work part-time, thus modifying her number of patients, and has since had to rely on her dental team to ensure her practice runs smoothly.  Giving up the craft she loved took a toll on her self-esteem and ability to provide for her family.

As a mother, Johanna wanted to spend as much time as possible with her children, however, she had difficulty achieving simple tasks most mothers take for granted.  She could not button her babies’ clothing or even pick them up without enduring severe pain.  She could barely even hold a fork when she ate.  During that time Johanna struggled greatly, frequently doubting herself and wondering whether she would ever lead a normal life again.

Turning to medications for help, Johanna discovered prednisone did not help her symptoms.  However, since then, she has found that the right mix of plaquinil, simponi, and methotraxate is mostly able to make her pain tolerable.  She has also taken refuge in warm compress therapy and a strict regimen of exercise a few times per week.

The hardest part about living with arthritis, she said, aside from the everyday tasks of openings jars, or doing hair and makeup, was having to ask for help to do them.  Not wanting to be a burden or seem like she was complaining, Johanna struggled with the fine line that existed between appearing lazy and actually suffering from arthritis.  However, she has learned that needing assistance comes with the territory.

“Ask for help and graciously accept it,” she said, “even if it’s to walk up the stairs.  You have to embrace the fact that things might not be the same.”

Being a dentist, Johanna knows the importance of research.  She expressed how thankful she is for the research that is being done to find treatments for arthritis, even if a cure may not be on the horizon.  She credits the medications she takes to those researchers behind the scenes, and their work that has afforded her the opportunity to take care of her children and family.

Family outings have grown less frequent in Johanna’s house, mainly due to pain and because her arthritis impedes her stamina.  However, her family is still as close as ever.

“If it wasn’t for my husband, kids and family, nothing – from running back and forth to appointments, taking care of our home, and dealing with everyday frustrations – would have gotten done,” she said.

It is because of her tight family unit, a strong sense of identity, and her strength that Johanna is able to live with arthritis.  She hopes everyone who shares her affliction stays strong and true to themselves.

“Be vocal.  Don’t hide.  This is who you are.”

If you’d like to share your arthritis story, contact us – kyle@curearthritis.org


Article Author
Arthritis National Research Foundation

The Arthritis National Research Foundation's mission is to provide initial research funding to brilliant, investigative scientists with new ideas to cure arthritis and related autoimmune diseases. There are several ways to support research through the ANRF. Find out more and donate today.

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