Tannis' story

Living Life to the Fullest

How one woman beat rhumatoid arthritis

It was supposed to be a joyful time. It was 1997 and Tannis Charles and her husband Bill had just welcomed their second child, Liam, to the world. But within a very short time Tannis couldn’t do things a mother should be able to do. She couldn’t lift him up or change his diapers. She describes it as “the maternity leave from hell.”

Tannis’ original diagnosis was reactive arthritis brought on by her pregnancy. She was told it would go away in two to 3 years and given medication to help control her symptoms. But the medications weren’t effective and soon Tannis was struggling to get out of bed in the morning and go up or down the stairs.

“I walked like I was 80, very slowly, very cautiously,” said Tannis. “My husband dropped me off at the front door at work so I wouldn’t have to go far.”

When her symptoms didn’t improve, Tannis went back to her rheumatologist to find out what was happening. He confirmed that what they thought had been reactive arthritis was now rheumatoid arthritis – a painful and progressive autoimmune disease that attacks the tissue in joints throughout the body. It wasn’t going away in 2-3 years; it wasn’t going away ever.

“We were both very concerned,” said Bill. “Tannis is very independent and I was worried how it would affect her.”

By 2005, Tannis was deteriorating. She relied on her husband to get her out of bed and into the shower and on her daughter Brittany to blow-dry her hair. Her coworkers also helped, fetching print outs or files and lending an arm when needed.

“My illness was very hard on my family. When I would humble myself to ask for assistance they would come running,” said Tannis. “I continued to work, mostly because I was terrified that if I stopped, I would never be able to return.  A wheelchair was most certainly in my future.”

Finally in 2006, her doctor recommended she participate in a clinical trial. She became the first participant in a global trial for a biologic medication and was to get an IV infusion every 26 weeks. Before the trial began she had 20 tender joints and 32 swollen joints. By the second treatment her tender joints had reduced to 12 and her swollen joints to 16 – a 50 per cent improvement!

“Over the first few months her ability to do things slowly got better and better,” said Bill. “It was slow to recognize the changes because she had never given up on doing things but they became easier as there was less pain.”

Over the course of the trial Tannis’ need for treatment stretched further and further apart, and by May 2010 she was in remission. Her last treatment was over 80 weeks ago in March of 2011.

“There is no wheelchair in my future,” said Tannis. “I have my life back. I walk the 14 flights of stairs to my office almost every day and hula-hoop in the park behind our house for an hour every weekend.”

“I’m grateful I was able to be a participant in this clinical trial and for the quality of life I have received from this medication.”

Bill is equally grateful for the effort that goes into finding these new treatments and allows people to lead more productive lives. “The release of chronic pain is remarkable,” said Bill. “We’re fortunate to have been able to be a part of something like this."