Linda Watson

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A favorite saying of mine is: “If everything in life were easy we’d never see the strength we possess.” That was put to the test when, at the young age of 41, I started experiencing early signs of arthritis.

My life was always pretty much normal. I was a single mom raising two sons, working 45 to 50 hours a week and never missing a day of work. My work was physically demanding, therefore aches and pains were a part of my life. One day I began to experience a different kind of pain, one that was deep burning and throbbing, especially in my hands and feet. I tried different kinds of medicine and physical therapy, but nothing seemed to help. No one in my family ever had arthritis, so I was confused about what was happening to me. I’d be angry one minute, then sad the next. I began to look for answers.

I realized an arthritis support group would not only be a good way to find answers, but also to help others and myself in the process. It was through this group that I was introduced to UNC’s Thurston Arthritis Research Center and Dr. John Winfield. I knew immediately I was in good hands.

Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, I found Dr. Winfield a most caring and compassionate man. At first I was able to get around only with the help of a cane, then a walker, and then for the next five years, a wheelchair. Throughout this difficult time, he often went way above the call of duty to answer my questions while giving me ample time to digest what he was saying. He never rushed or made me feel uncomfortable and, most of all, he encouraged me even when I wanted to give up. Several operations and two hip replacements later, I could walk on my own again. Thanks to prayer, the research and staff at Thurston Arthritis Research Center and my wonderful doctor, I have my life back.

Today, I am an active community volunteer. It seems strange now to think of this as a disability because it was during this time that I discovered the joy of helping others. I hold the door for others, help them with their wheel chairs and visit rest homes. I discovered that taking the time to treat someone with kindness is such a blessing. I love my volunteer time at quilting and craft classes for assisted living homes, the American Red Cross and our local hospital and hospice. I also found strength through my support group, and they in turn seemed to get inspiration from me.

I truly thank Thurston for the unsung work they do daily to find preventions and treatments for this chronic disease.