Friday 21 July 2017

'Training for Iron Man helps my arthritis pain'

Rather than become a recluse, which he says is easy to do when suffering from debilitating rheumatoid arthritis, Ken Byrne tells our reporter why having a goal ensures he goes to the gym everyday

Ken Byrne, 43, says exercising everyday alleviates his rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
Ken Byrne, 43, says exercising everyday alleviates his rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

Áilín Quinlan

Ken Byrne is aware that he may sometimes come across as a 'grumpy or lazy' dad - but given his situation, there's not a lot the 43-year-old father of three can do about it.

A former League of Ireland soccer player, Ken suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, which has left him in much pain with debilitating fatigue and broken sleep.

A business analyst from Celbridge Co Kildare and a formerly highly active and very sporty individual, Ken deeply misses doing some of the usual 'Dad' things with his kids aged nine, 12 and 15.

"I can find it difficult to cope - mainly with the fatigue, he explains, I cannot go out and play football with the kids and sometimes all I want to do is sit on the sofa and rest.

"I may come across as a grumpy or lazy dad and it's hard to explain it. The kids want to do something and you just get grumpy and want to sit down."

The biggest impact on his life, he says, is the pain caused by the condition and the fact that it "can take your personality away. You tend not to do things because of it," he says, explaining that social functions can be exhausting and normal rituals, like hand-shaking, have become impossible.

"You'll stay away from things and become a bit reclusive because you don't always want to be blaming tiredness and pain.

"I'm in pain 24 hours a day. You learn to live with it but it can be embarrassing because I cannot do things like open jars or cans or shake hands because of the pain. As a result I tend to avoid social situations."

His ordeal began 10 years ago with pains and aches and a general fatigue, he recalls. "There was tiredness when I should not have been tired - even trying to exercise would leave me exhausted.

"I found this really odd because I had always been very active and sport has always been a huge part of my life," says Ken who, at that stage played soccer, water polo, swam and did cross-training, among other things.

"I felt like how I thought a 90-year-old would feel," he says.

However it was about 18 months before he went to the doctor, and by that stage his hands and knuckles had become so sore and inflamed that he was unable to form a fist.

He was referred to a rheumatologist who diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis.

After much trial and error, he discovered a particular combination of drugs, which helped keep the symptoms at bay for several years.

However, about five years ago the drugs stopped working, and a routine blood test showed Ken now also had a condition called haemochromatosis, a genetic condition which causes the absorption of excessive amounts of dietary iron, which can in time lead to serious organ damage.

"I was taken off the arthritis medication and had to have a pint of blood drawn every eight weeks or so for the haemochromatosis," he says, adding that he continued to have his normal arthritis checks along with a series of steroid injections to treat the joint pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis.

Both conditions are in his family - his mother has arthritis and his siblings have haemochromatosis.

At time of writing, Ken was waiting to undergo a battery of tests which would help doctors decide on his treatment into the future.

Currently he has severe joint pain which results in difficulty sleeping and disturbed nights.

"I find that exercise helps the symptoms," he says.

He exercises five days a week, in the gym, in the pool and on the bike - he's a member of Team RAD, a cycling club established in partnership with Arthritis Ireland for people with rheumatoid arthritis and auto-immune disease to promote the benefits of health regular exercise. The club is currently actively seeking new partners to sponsor the team (visit racing withautoimmune disease.org.)

He has also completed no fewer than eight triathlons in the past three years, and next year hopes to do the half-distance Iron Man: "I think I'm mad, but if I don't have a goal I won't go to the gym every day," says Ken.

* For more information visit arthritis.ireland.ie

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