Suzanne began struggling with pain from Rheumatoid Arthritis in 1995. For close to 6 months, she and her doctor attempted to manage her pain with different steroid medications, but each new medication would stop working after a short period of time. As a result of this intensive steroid treatment, she was hospitalized for 6 months in 1996.
Her plan was to return to work at the Presbyterian Children’s Village with the assistance of a power wheelchair and daily physical therapy. However, despite efforts made by the Village to make her office accessible, she lacked the physical stamina to be able to function and was confined to her bed except for exhausting physical therapies. After over 20 years of service, she decided to effectively retire from her career.
In 1997, Suzanne and Clyde moved from the farmhouse on the campus of the Village where they had lived for 20 years and purchased a home in Broomall, PA.
Suzanne began an intensive rehabilitation program, involving a daily aquatic class in a therapeutically heated pool. This also allowed her to meet a group of other people with similar conditions, who Suzanne called the “Swimpals.” She published a phone list so they could talk and get together outside of class, and over the course of 10 years, they would often have post-workout lunches and holiday get-togethers.
In a forum for people with Rheumatoid Arthritis, she wrote about the amazing success of this treatment:
I would have severe chilling and be totally exhausted after, but I almost felt “normal” in the warm water with a therapist holding on to me. . . Going to that pool took all of my effort to get there, get in the water and get out. My husband drove me to each session and wheeled me to the pool where I transferred from a power chair into the water. I did this over a period of ten years. I made many good friends in the pool and gradually improved over the months and years. I can now take care of myself; walk about the house; and interact with others. I still fatigue very easily, I still have pain; and I still have R.A. And other autoimmune issues.
During this time, with the assistance of a regime of powerful medications, Suzanne was able to gain enough strength to travel across the country for family visits, celebrations, weddings and funerals, even attending her 40th High School reunion in 2001, although she would often pay a physical price of recovery afterwards.
Within the last couple of years of her life, Suzanne reflected on her recovery process:
I am at the last stage and have been through the whole lot. Many of the drugs list scary side effects. R.A. is the enemy; however, not the drugs…
… I have learned that there are many paths in a life. We all must make choices. I am grateful for the life I had, and also for the life I have now. I think that living in gratitude and looking for ways to slow or manage your disease are the way to go.
Some people can remain fairly active. I am not. RA basically crippled me before there were biological medications. I have taken plaquenil & methotrexate since my long ago hospitalization. I do not fear the meds, but I monitor them closely by following instructions to the letter and by regular medical and lab checks.
I used to be a pretty good social worker; I now try to use those skills to live my best life.