If you’re searching for a story of human triumph in the face of living with autoimmune diseases, look no further than the Biesold family.
In 2006, Christie Biesold, then a single mom with two children, was stopped in her tracks with stiff, painful and inflamed toes and fingers. She had difficulty putting on her clothes, couldn’t cook and clean, and required help at work for physical tasks. “I’m a very independent and mentally strong person,” she explains. “I was mortified that I needed help to do regular things like open cans of food.”
She endured months of medical appointments, testing and physical therapy, all to no avail. A friend finally suggested she go to a rheumatologist and after some blood work, she walked into the physician’s office to receive the diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis.
Psoriatic arthritis is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy joints and skin. The faulty immune response causes inflammation that triggers joint pain, stiffness and swelling. The inflammation can affect the entire body and may lead to permanent joint and tissue damage if it is not treated early and aggressively.
After trying several drugs and finally getting the right combination of newly advanced medications, Christie began to feel better. Now she is active again, playing tennis a couple times a week, gardening and walking her dogs, though she still deals with fatigue and flare-ups of the disease.
Arthritis Affects Multiple Generations
Before Christie’s diagnosis, her soon-to-be father-in-law, Bruce Biesold, had also been suffering for over a year with painful, swollen joints. He finally found a rheumatologist who diagnosed him with psoriatic arthritis and was able to start aggressive treatment. Even though he still fights pain daily and flare-ups on a monthly basis, it does not keep him from his passions, spending time with his 10 grandchildren and fishing in Alaska.
Several years ago, another medical concern entered Christie’s life. Her daughter, Courtenay Brennan, at age 15, developed painful TMJ. She also suffered from pain in her joints and full body fatigue. “I learned on the first day of my freshman year in high school that I had psoriatic arthritis too,” says Courtenay. “Because my mom was totally on top of it, we knew we needed to treat it aggressively.” Even though Courtenay quickly began the latest treatments, she missed half of her freshman and sophomore classes. After finding the best therapy for her, she was able to fully attend her junior year and have an active social life.
“We were worried that I’d have to undergo jaw reconstruction surgery but the drugs stopped the deterioration of my jaw,” notes Courtenay. “That was amazing news and a really high point in my treatment.” She is now starting her senior year. “I decided I need to be positive about this disease. It’s made me a more mature person and given me a lot of opportunities to meet people and support others who struggle with diseases. With my mom and family by my side, I can fight this, go to college and have a good life.”
A New Challenge
The close family, who support each other so strongly, now has another challenge. Christie’s 15-year-old son, Conor Brennan, has recently developed an autoimmune disorder that also was difficult to diagnosis. He has a rare illness called PANDAS, Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Strep, which results in inflammation of the child’s brain. Christie worked for months trying to get a correct diagnosis, and is now working tirelessly to find the right medical care and support for her son.
“It’s just heartbreaking to have your children afflicted with these diseases,” says Christie. “No child should have to go through this pain and suffering. As an adult, I feel like I can take it, but I know what it’s like to ache all over and I know what they’re up against.”
How the Biesolds Help
Even though they’re dealing with several diseases, the whole family—Phyllis and Bruce Biesold, Christie and Todd Biesold, and their children Courtenay and Conor Brennan and Gill and Colby Biesold—are committed to supporting causes important to them. When they learned about BRI’s research to prevent, treat and eliminate autoimmune diseases, they supported the institute with a $10,000 gift and shared their story at BRI’s fundraising event Grapes on the Green.
Originally published in BRING IT ON newsletter - Fall 2015
October 1, 2015
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