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Gerald Major was about 12 years old when his body began to change.
And not solely in the typical way that a teenager's body transforms and grows, sometimes awkwardly, before settling into adulthood. This was different.
Gerald, a hockey player and top-performing track and field athlete, began to feel that his knees were "loose" after competitions and training. He put it down to an active lifestyle and rigorous athletic training. Soon, recovery times began to lengthen, and his ankles also began showing signs of stress.
"My older brother had knee issues, so I wrote it off," the Oakville, Ont., resident recalls. "Medicine was different then."
It wasn't until he was about 21 years old that Gerald was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a severe form of arthritis that affects more than 400,000 Canadians.
The disease causes the immune system to become overactive, attacking the joints of the spine and pelvis, and causing the formation of bone spurs. It can also eventually lead to spinal fusion and back curvature, and in severe cases, paralysis – usually from injury.
Common symptoms include pain and fatigue, as well as inflammation of the eyes. A recent study by researchers at UHN also found that there is a higher rate of cardiac and stroke-related mortality among AS patients than those without the disease. And, AS is about three times more prevalent in men than in women.
Now in his mid-40s, Gerald, a former hedge fund executive, has been on long-term disability for five years and has undergone seven surgeries to address joint damage from his AS. Another operation is on the horizon.
He says that the stress and discomfort of living with the disease eventually began to take a psychological toll.
"When anything physical hits you like that, it'll eventually affect your mind," he says. "I think eventually my mind took me out of work. My body was just a mess. I was crumbling."
The Krembil Research Institute and the Globe and Mail have teamed up for a special project designed to highlight the tremendous achievements of the science and research programs at Krembil. The first of three magazines in this series looks at the brain and spine program, a second highlights the vision program and a final edition, which is also now available on line, explores the arthritis program.