When Susan Higham was 23, pain began developing in her sarcroilic joints. Eventually, the inflammation spread to more joints, and flares became more frequent and debilitating.
Eight years later, doctors diagnosed Susan with ankylosing spondylitis, a type of arthritis that affects primarily the spine and back. With AS, joints and bones in the vertebrae may fuse together over time, causing the spine to become rigid and inflexible. As a systemic disease, it can also affect organs.
“I was relieved because I just wanted to know what was wrong,” says Susan, now 44 and living with her husband and two dogs in Medina. “I wasn’t surprised because I have other family members with this type of arthritis. I knew I would be fine but needed to figure out how to manage it properly.”
For support, Susan turned to the Arthritis Foundation. She has been involved with the charity during the past 12 years, serving as committee chair for the Cleveland Walk to Cure Arthritis and a local leadership board member. She volunteers at every Foundation event in Northeast Ohio and has gone to the Ohio Statehouse to raise awareness of arthritis among legislators.
“I’ve made many close friends through the Arthritis Foundation, which is a great resource for those just diagnosed and a great way to meet people who can relate to your circumstances,” she says.
Fortunately, Susan’s arthritis medications have worked well, and her current symptoms are manageable. “I’m not saying I don’t have bad days, but they are few and far between,” she explains, adding that her passion for the Arthritis Foundation’s work has helped her turn something negative into a positive. “Volunteering makes me feel like I’m making a difference and has given me more confidence in all aspects of my life.”