Pam Giger always has been an active person with a passion for gardening and riding her horse, Winchester.
But last year she had to give up these beloved hobbies due to the intense and debilitating pain in her hands, shoulders, elbows and feet caused by her rheumatoid arthritis.
“I couldn’t even think I hurt so bad,” said Giger, 62, of Joplin. “I quit going places and doing things. My life had gotten very, very small.”
Giger was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis about 25 years ago. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder affecting a person’s joints and other body systems that occurs when their immune system mistakenly attacks the tissues in their body.
She had visited a number of rheumatologists over the years to treat her conditions, but never found the right specialist who listened to her and treated her like a partner in her medical care.
That is, until Dr. Anan Afaneh came to town last summer.
New Doctor, New Hope
Shortly after Afaneh joined Mercy Clinic Rheumatology in August in Joplin, Giger booked an appointment in hopes of finding a good rheumatologist close to home. She was not disappointed by the visit with Afaneh.
“When I met Dr. Afaneh, I thought, ‘Oh my, what a blessing,’” she said. “He’s one of the greatest things that’s happened in my life in a long time because he sits and listens to you. Then, the two of us came up with a plan. I’ve been to a lot of doctors who don’t listen, and I felt like I didn’t have control of my body. Dr. Afaneh is not like that at all. He’s so caring, knowledgeable and understanding.”
Afaneh ordered several tests during that first visit and, together with Giger, decided on a treatment plan. She began weekly Enbrel treatments, which are self-administered injections designed to lower her immune system response to reduce pain and keep joint damage from getting worse.
While on this treatment, she has to have frequent blood tests because she is more at risk of developing an infection, which is why having a rheumatologist who keeps a close eye on her overall health is so vital.
Since starting the injections, Giger’s life has changed dramatically for the better. She is able to resume gardening and horseback riding and even went on a trip last fall to Texas to see her daughter compete in a horse show. Prior to the treatment, she hadn’t travelled for years.
“Before I saw him, I quit riding my horse and I couldn’t do anything because I hurt so bad, which made my soul hurt and made me depressed,” Giger said. “It made me want to give up. I don’t want to give up now. I have hope.”
Putting the Puzzle Pieces Together
Using the latest technology, medications and biological agents (medications made from living cells), Afaneh diagnoses and treats a variety of conditions in patients of all ages:
Afaneh said he often has to piece together a patient’s symptoms to determine an accurate diagnosis. A patient, for example, may come in with a skin rash, mild joint pain, dry eyes, dry mouth and blood in the urine. These can be signs of lupus.
“Rheumatology doesn’t involve just one system,” he said. “We treat conditions affecting blood vessels, kidneys, lungs, skin, joints, bones and eyes. The whole body can get affected by one disease, and that’s what is puzzling about it.”
Patients often come to Afaneh complaining about fatigue and pain in their hands, feet and other joints. Some may have trouble holding a mug, opening a jar or carrying their grandchildren because of pain and inflammation in their hands. He hopes to treat these symptoms earlier so patients can return to their normal activity levels and avoid more serious debilitation.
“With all of the advancements, like biological agents and immunotherapy medications, we are seeing a lot of improvements for patients,” Afaneh said. “I’ve had patients who have had their condition uncontrolled for five years, but within a matter of three weeks or a month after getting them on these regimens, they feel 20 years younger.”
Thanks to the care she received from Afaneh, Giger said she feels energized and better able to live her normal life without the intense joint pain.
“Dr. Afaneh is the best rheumatologist I’ve had in 25 years,” she said. “I’m so glad he came to town.”
To book an appointment with Afaneh at Mercy Clinic Rheumatology, 100 Mercy Way, Suite 520, Joplin, call (417) 556-5210.