Coast athlete begins long road to recovery

16 Nov

By Nathan Corbett 

A Gold Coast athlete struck down by a crippling disease is determined to return to full health and compete again.

Three months ago, 24-year-old Tom Hill was diagnosed with the medical condition reactive arthritis which is an autoimmune disease prevalent in people aged 20-40.

An upcoming triathlete, Mr Hill said he refused to believe what was going on and detached himself socially from family and friends.

“I didn’t want to believe it,” Mr Hill said.

“I put off every feeling I had because I didn’t know how to deal, I hid, I didn’t see my family and friends, I didn’t know what to do.”

Reactive arthritis is one of four blood conditions that can be traced to HLA B27, which is a common gene found in one in every six people.

For Mr Hill the disease began in his pelvis before spreading down his knees to his feet, attacking through blood, ligaments and all the attachments.

“It is like I wake up in the morning and it’s at its worst, I’m stiff I won’t be able to move,” Mr Hill said.

“Sneezing was one of my biggest fears because you don’t realise how deep of an action it is, when you sneeze you tense your whole body.

“If I sneezed I used to end up on the ground, I couldn’t move.”

It began in October 2016 when Mr Hill said he experienced excruciating pain when he suddenly sat down.

Mr Hill was diagnosed with a fractured pelvis and started rehabilitation for that injury.

However, as the months passed the injury was not improving and by June Mr Hill had completely lost his balance leaving him completely bed ridden.

“One of the hardest things about the disease was my loss of balance,” Mr Hill said.

“I think, for me anyway, being in touch with my body being physically unstable is really scary.”

Mr Hill consulted a rheumatologist who told him his condition was reactive arthritis.

The rheumatologist looked through his previous medical scans and found the disease had been present in his system since 2011.

“These scans were the exact same presentation during the last 12 months when I got diagnosed with the fractured pelvis,” Mr Hill said.

Mr Hill said he has focussed intensively on his recovery.

He said he has been fighting the disease with monthly injections of Cosentyx, a form of chemotherapy minus the radiation, which reduces his pain significantly, but takes away his immune system.

“Over winter, I had to be careful who I came into contact with,” Mr Hill said.

“I couldn’t fight it.”

As well as that injection, he spends four hours a day using a hyperbaric chamber and laser therapy to ensure the recovery process is faster, stronger and more effective.

The whole approach has not just been strictly medical, with Mr Hill paying credit to his incredible network of support for getting him through the long and arduous procedure.

“Mum took a month off work to get me through it,” Mr Hill said.

“She was literally by my bedside, researching every single doctor, every single treatment possible, every single side effect.”

“My yoga teacher Sam, in every dark day she is there for me, she was the one who gave me the tools to move forward.

“And obviously, my partner Shanelle, she has been through every step of the way.

“I’ve been with her almost two years andshe has never seen me 100%.”

Mr Hill’s partner Shanelle Kuhne, 22, said despite the setback Tom’s spirit had carried him through the last few months.

“The one thing that has stuck by Tom which I believe has carried him throughout this entire journey is his spirit,” Ms Kuhne said.

“He doesn’t let the limitations from the disease prevent him from doing what he loves.”

Mr Hill said he had managed to slowly return to moderate cycling, however had been hesitant in goal-setting because he had failed to meet previous objectives before.

“This year I had many goals, little goals and big goals all set out and planned,” Mr Hill said.

“The amount of times this year I have set myself up for something and over-committed and let myself down and let others down, I don’t want to have that feeling.”

Mr Hill said he still wanted to aim high to participate in an Ironman, as well as take part in the Kokoda Trail next year.

“Down the track I want to do an Ironman with no pain, that’s the ultimate goal,” Mr Hill said.

“I’ve also been asked by my mentor to go do the Kokoda Trail in August next year.

“That will be a big step, too.”

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