Ankylosing Spondylitis

Abhinav Verma is a 26-year-old working professional whose grit and determination amazed me. He came to me last November. A Systems Engineer in Tata Consultancy Services, he walked like an old man, had tremors in his neck and hands, a stiff spine and a lot of loose fat around the middle. He had constant pain in his spine, shoulders and hands but his job needed him to continue. He had ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a rheumatic auto-immune condition that affects 1 per cent of the population and has no cure.

Doctors put AS patients on steroids, chemotherapy drugs and immuno-suppressants to suppress and re-modulate the immune system. Levels of inflammation inside the body are high and the pain levels are unimaginable. And yet, this young man somehow continued with his work, popping in pain killers and medicines the doctors gave him, which have severe side effects on the stomach lining, liver and kidneys. But he was willing to do anything to get rid of the pain.

I began his treatment by attacking the causes — a compromised immunity and high levels of inflammation, which were causing symptoms of extreme pain and tremors and weakening the spine. So I gave him a health plan (not just diet chart) that would strengthen his immunity, upping his ability to fight diseases and decreasing inflammation inside his body, hence reducing pain levels. Every week, some aspect of his plan would change as per his progress. By week 5, we had achieved lowered inflammation levels, and his pain and stiffness started disappearing. He was off the painkillers. Now, we had to use functional training to re-build the functionality of his spine. For stretches and functional training, we opted for the outdoors. By the sea at Bandstand. Slowly, flexibility began returning.

Once inflammation reduced, the effects of my functional training combined with physiotherapy began showing results. He lost 13 kilos in three months, and could actually move his neck! His skin had started glowing, and his parents, who thought he was wasting money on my treatment, began to see a new side to their son.

AS comes with extreme fatigue and mental fuzziness, but by the end of the second month, Abhinav’s fatigue had vanished and his brain returned to its razor-sharp self.

Abhinav is a true example of someone who overcame an incurable disease. He didn’t deviate from the health plan, didn’t give up, and most importantly, his level of positivity and belief made him eradicate his pain. I have treated many cases of AS, but Abhinav’s case stands out since he never hid behind his job or family or circumstances to say he couldn’t do it or he was fed up. Autoimmune conditions and medications tend to make patients depressive but I never saw that in Abhinav.

The disease is what we make of it; we can either pop the pills and opt for emergency care, or choose the path of eradicating disease and embracing good health. As Thomas Edison said, “The doctor of the future will give no medication, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.”

That time has come.