My Story: Effie Koliopoulos

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What were the steps leading up to your diagnosis?

I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at 18 years old, with symptoms started a few years prior. The first symptoms I experienced during high school weren’t seen as alarming at first.

I remember coming down with a very bad cold my freshman year, started having random night sweats, bad acne, and random bruises on my wrist. Then the following year I had swelling in my knee joint that then disappeared after two days. Shortly after I noticed the knuckles in my hands seemed strange.

I showed my knuckles to my pediatrician at the time, and she said they looked fine, but I knew something was wrong. I went back the following year for my yearly checkup, had my hands looked at again and immediately was told to see a rheumatologist. So my intuition was spot on.

I was diagnosed two years later after my first symptoms started. Then I went to Mayo Clinic for a second opinion, which I needed to wait 6 months for. My diagnosis was confirmed and was sent home with instructions to start a biologic and other medication.

Being that I was thoroughly doing my research, I already knew to also find an integrative doctor who could help uncover other root issues at play. I really don’t know how I would be at this present time if it wasn’t for the combination approach of both conventional and alternative medicine.

Overall, I have had my fair share of bad, horrible, good and excellent times during the past 14 years. Unfortunately, one of the horrible times was when I have to undergo a total knee replacement at the age of 29 years old. Although I had random swelling in my knee in the beginning years before my diagnosis, I actually never had any signs of joint damage up until a major flare-up that left me bedridden in 2012.

All of this changed the trajectory of my journey forever and led me down a hard road. That road has been a blessing in disguise as it has manifested into something beautiful by helping me find part of my life purpose and passion in life; helping those who live with rheumatoid arthritis.

What lifestyle changes have you needed to make?

I never smoke or drank prior to my diagnosis. As I got older my rheumatologist said I can drink moderately on the medication I was on at the time. On occasion during a social outing I had a drink but I eventually cut that out.

Mainly diet and the food I eat has been a significant lifestyle change. When I was diagnosed I cut out all processed foods, artificial flavorings, sweeteners, and other junk food out of my diet.

Several medical tests I did through my integrative doctor showed that I had gluten sensitivity, also known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Avoiding gluten and focusing on healing my digestive tract from other food sensitives and intolerances, candida, SIBO, were just a few of the underlying root factors at play.

Who has been there for you? How?

First and foremost, my immediate family. They have seen it all and been there 24/7, 365 days a year.

My medical team has been a source of great support and without them, I may not even be here typing this. It took me a while to find a team of doctors who actually understood and treated my condition properly.

Friends and other loved ones I am close with have been there for me too by either joining at events I host such as the Walk to Cure Arthritis 5K Event hosted by the Arthritis Foundation or just being a listening ear.

Since starting my blog and other social media channels, I have been blessed to find so many people out there going through the same things as me.

What accomplishment are you proud of?

I am proud of how far I’ve come since my diagnosis. Living with a chronic illness and all the things that come along with it isn’t easy.

Recently, I won a WEGO Health award for the Rookie of the Year category. Earlier this year I was interviewed by RA Health Monitor Network Magazine.

Sharing my story has opened the doors to different opportunities. I have been featured and published in The Mighty, Yahoo Lifestyle, theRAconnection, Cure Arthritis, and more.

What accomplishment are you proud of?

I am proud of how far I’ve come since my diagnosis. Living with a chronic illness and all the things that come along with it isn’t easy.

Recently, I won a WEGO Health award for the Rookie of the Year category. Earlier this year I was interviewed by RA Health Monitor Network Magazine.

Sharing my story has opened the doors to different opportunities. I have been featured and published in The Mighty, Yahoo Lifestyle, theRAconnection, Cure Arthritis, and more.

I'm proud of how far I’ve come.

I'm proud of how far I’ve come.

What's your advice to someone else living with rheumatoid arthritis?

Pat yourself on the back because you are doing amazing. I know there can be hard days but take a moment during the bad times to show gratitude for what is going well in your life. Your perspective will shift for the better.

Keep going, keep fighting and keep it real with those around you. Listen to your body and what your doctor tells you. Don't be afraid of the side effects medication can cause because the side effects from the disease itself have a very far-reaching impact that can be irreversible if not properly controlled.

Do all your research and go prepared to your doctor appointments with questions and notes ready. Make sure you bring a trusted family member, spouse, or loved one to be a second pair of ears and a note taker.

Also, clean up your lifestyle on a physical level (food, clutter around the home), mental, emotional and spiritual one.

Pat yourself on the back because you are doing amazing. I know there can be hard days but take a moment during the bad times to show gratitude for what is going well in your life.

Is there anything else we should know?

Fun fact: I had a pet goldfish that lived for 16 years! I am a health coach with the goal of using a holistic approach to help those living with rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile arthritis, chronic illness, disability and joint replacement (s) pre/post-surgery, cope and thrive. I have a B.A. in Communications.
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