Reaching New Heights with Joint Disease

Patient doesn’t let rheumatoid arthritis slow her down

BJ Pessia is a jack of all trades and master of all.

A real estate agent, carpenter, painter, landscaper, ski instructor, soccer coach, and caregiver, she is always engaged in a hands-on project or busy caring for someone.

Physical work hasn’t always been easy for BJ. She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) 24 years ago, when she was 30 years old.

“One day I noticed I had wrist pain. The pain moved to my other wrist and would fluctuate from each wrist with no consistency,” she says.

Health care providers told her it was carpal tunnel syndrome, but she didn’t do any repetitive work and was not convinced that was the problem.

After several blood tests and a visit to a rheumatologist, BJ was diagnosed with RA. By then the inflammation symptoms were also in her shoulders and her hips—but again, never consistent, and always moving from one side to the other with no pattern.

The original RA medications she was prescribed had serious side effects, including stomach issues and liver damage. Eventually she found a medication that worked for her.

Now, BJ rarely has big flare-ups.

“The new medication changed my life, and I can usually feel inflammation coming on when it does happen,” she says. “I can paint and do light construction to get houses ready to go on the market to sell.”

BJ says RA can be as much of a mind problem as it is a physical problem.

“I got tired of people telling me that my pain was caused by me doing too much—or people would try to figure out what I did wrong to make my wrists or shoulders hurt,” she says. “It’s nothing that I did. It’s my body reacting to an autoimmune disease and attacking a joint.”

In addition to finding the right medication to treat her RA, BJ also attributes her wellness to sticking to a healthy diet, keeping her weight down, and staying active.

She is currently training for the Pan Mass Challenge fundraiser, a 191-mile bicycle ride across Massachusetts that raises money for cancer research. She also plans to hike all the 4,000-foot mountain peaks in New Hampshire.

Her advice to those who have or suspect they have RA: “Go to a major rheumatology treatment center and talk to a rheumatologist who will really listen to you. Know your body and stay active.”


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