Brian Newhook is happy that he can kayak again after being sidelined for awhile with a form of arthritis called psoriatic arthritis. Newhook says treatment has given him back his mobility.
When Brian Newhook awoke one morning with some small tension in his knee, he thought he had just strained it a little during a workout the night before. He was 32 and very active, spending much of his free time hiking and kayaking. But each day, that tension in his knee got a little worse.
“It was almost like a rubber band was around it and it was just kinda getting tighter,” he says.
It was November of 2012. By the new year he’d hardly have any ability to bend his left knee at all.
After his family doctor ruled out all other possibilities, he told Newhook he had arthritis — the severity of which Newhook didn’t quite grasp at the time.
“He just looked at me and was like ‘It’s not good news, son’.”
Within two months a rheumatologist diagnosed him with an autoimmune disease called psoriatic arthritis (PsA). In PsA, the immune system is overactive and starts to attack what would be well-working joints causing swelling, warmth and pain.
“By that time my left knee was the size of a cantaloupe,” he says.
He had 70 CCs of fluid drained off the joint and then he started to go through possible remedies, all of which proved useless to his specific condition. As time wore on and his knee wore out, it became obvious that there was permanent damage being done. His doctor, not to mention Newhook himself, was getting desperate.
“I had about 10 degrees range of motion,” he says. “I was hardly able to do anything in terms of anything that involved bending a leg.”
Being a naval architect who did most of his work at a computer, his job was, thankfully, doable. The rest of his life, however, had changed dramatically.
To get an idea of how active he had been, he and his wife with another couple had been planning a hike through Nepal into the base camp of Mount Everest. Now, kayaking was impossible. He couldn’t get his boat on or off his car or get himself in and out of his boat. He couldn’t lift his two-year-old up the stairs or even get down on the floor and play with her.
It had been two years since that morning he woke up with a slight tension in his left knee. Now he was looking at having a surgery that removes all the inner lining of the joint — essentially anything that produces fluid. That also had only about a 50 per cent chance of doing him any good.
Then his doctor gave him a shot of a biologic called SIMPONI as a last ditch effort to save his knee from being replaced. Immediately there was some relief. Within two months, he had most of his range of motion back.
“It was nothing short of a miracle,” he says.
The biologic knocks the immune system down a bit. It makes Newhook a little more susceptible to the common cold, but it keeps it from tearing his knee apart.
It’s been a year and a half since he had his first shot of SIMPONI. Last March he went on a seven-day kayaking trip with friends in Mexico spending eight hours a day in the boat without a hitch. There has been some permanent damage. He can’t do squats and the act of kneeling down on that knee is out. But he has almost full range of motion and has lost his limp altogether.
Newhook is now an advocate for early detection and management of all types of arthritis. The quicker it’s diagnosed, the quicker people can start going through the possible treatments until they find the right one for them. That means less damage that can’t be repaired.
“The longer that that takes, the bigger risk you run,” he says.
September is National Arthritis Awareness Month. Twenty-two per cent of adult Newfoundlanders are affected by some sort of arthritis.