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Diagnosed at age 22, Farah Nasser, an anchor at Toronto news station, CP24, knows all too well how arthritis and autoimmune diseases affect people in the prime of their life. On Sunday, March 2, 2014, thousands of Canadians participated in the 'Power of Movement', Canada's largest yoga fundraiser. The event was emceed by Nasser, a board member for the Arthritis Research Foundation.
Funds raised from the event go towards life changing research benefitting more than 4.6 million Canadians living with arthritis and autoimmune conditions.
A life-altering diagnosis
Just over 10 years ago, Nasser was handed a note by a doctor who looked like she was going to cry.
"The note had the words 'Polyarteritis Nodosa' on it, and I had no idea what those words meant," said Nasser. "Little did I know that medical term would soon be well known to my friends and family, Googled by my co-workers, and most of all, hated by me."
Symptoms began in 2002 while Nasser was away studying in London, England.
"I was at a party when someone asked me how I got that big bruise on my leg," said Nasser. "I hadn't noticed it before. After a few days, more bruises and lesions appeared – purple and angry."
When Nasser returned to Canada, she saw several doctors, including a dermatologist who, after a biopsy was performed, gave her the diagnosis.
Polyarteritis Nodasa is an autoimmune illness, a type of vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels) affecting the medium-sized arteries, which become swollen and damaged from being attacked by rogue immune cells.
"I felt like I'd aged 50 years," remembers Nasser
A diagnosis meant an answer, but it didn't mean that life would get back to normal. Nasser attempted to keep her disease a secret from her employers, so as not to hinder her career. That was until her legs gave out one day during a press scrum, and she knew at that point that something had to change.
"My superiors were mortified that I hadn't told them what was going on. I was off work on long-term disability in my mid-twenties and in the prime of my career. I could hardly get out of bed. I had to use a walker to get outside. It was horrible," said Nasser. "I felt like I'd aged 50 years. I missed family weddings and vacations with my friends. The worst part was the fact that I had to rely on everybody else and had essentially lost my independence. I saw life passing me by and that's when I'd had it. I was determined that this wouldn't be my future."
A promising future
Nasser started doing a lot of research.
"I needed answers and that's what I got from the University Health Network," she said.
She started seeing Dr. Simon Carette, a rheumatologist world-renowned for his work with vasculitis, both as a clinician and a researcher. Carette helped Nasser with treatments and coping mechanisms. He helped her realize what she had experienced was a flare-up, and while she may have more, this was the worst of it.
"Dr. Carette helped me accept the changes this disease brings and helped me adapt my lifestyle," remembered Nasser. "I started doing yoga regularly, stayed positive and slowly but surely I found a treatment plan that worked."
One of the ways Nasser stays positive is through her work with the Arthritis Research Foundation.
"This year's 'Power of Movement' was very special to me because I couldn't participate last year – I was in labour with my son," said Nasser. "The cutting edge research that the Arthritis Research Foundation supports is helping not only me, but the 4.6 million Canadians to realize that a world without arthritis is not that far away, and hopefully within my son's lifetime."
This year more than 2,000 participants nationwide came together on Sunday, March 2nd to flex their philanthropic muscles for arthritis and autoimmune disease research.
Team UHN was the third overall national team, raising $4,345. Thanks to team members: Cailin Banks; Sutha Shanmugarajanh; Bob Bell; Erin Culhane; Marcia Bowen; Pat Leman; Annette Remmes; Debra Kirbyson; Maryam S. Hamidi; Christine Minerva; Shivani Goyal; Tracey Herlihey.
Over $200, 000 was raised across Canada for the Arthritis Research Foundation.
Donations will be accepted until the end of March. To donate, click here.