Searching for Answers

Ashley Thomas is a University of Oklahoma graduate, professional accountant, beloved daughter and aunt to her niece and nephew, Ava and Jake. Ashley has battled painful and unexplained symptoms in her back and jaw for many years.

Ashley Thomas was attending college at the University of Oklahoma in 2005 working on a business administration degree and a minor in economics. She was halfway through her degree when back pain began to distract her studies. It became a habit for Ashley to carry a heating pad to the library to ease the back pain she felt after sitting for hours.

After graduation, Ashley started working in a contract position at Devon Energy. She worked hard and was quickly hired to work in the revenue department. Ashley’s back continued to hurt more and more. The pain was starting to impede her ability to focus on her job. Most days Ashley would brush off the pain and power through. She continued working as a Senior Revenue Accountant at Devon Energy for 4 years. Ashley was only 28 when she mentioned to her mother, “Mom, I don’t know what I will feel like when I’m 40 or 50 because when I wake up now, I feel like I’m 90.”

Ashley’s symptoms continued to multiply. Her joints hurt and her hips hurt along with the back pain. She saw several medical specialists. She was tested for seizures and ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. She was also tested for Stick Man Syndrome, but both tests were negative. Another prominent symptom was a spasm in her jaw. She was referred to a well-known expert of Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome or TMJ in Norman. He had not seen anything quite like Ashley’s jaw spasms before and decided to video the occurrence and seek further knowledge from his colleagues.

Ashley’s new symptoms were spasms in her hips and down her legs. Ashley’s parents took her to every specialist recommended in hopes of getting help. They tried physical therapy and consulted two neurologists. “I endured about 4 years of testing trying to get an answer,” says Ashley. “Eventually it became fight or flight to keep my job.”

Unfortunately, Ashley was laid off from her job at Devon. She moved back into her parents’ home where they could take care of each other. “I used to have my own home in Nichols Hills,” says Ashley, “I could clean my entire house, do my laundry, shop for groceries, and get ready to go to work the next week. Just taking care of myself was causing more pain and stress. Now just taking a shower is exhausting. I am so grateful for my parents.”

Ashley wasn’t getting any answers and wanted to give up. “I decided I would have to adapt and live in pain,” Ashley says. Her father had a friend coming to Oklahoma Arthritis Center to see Dr. Carson and recommended that she see him too. “I went to Dr. Carson for my parents,” says Ashley, “I told them he was the last doctor I was going to see.” The timing was just right because Ashley was giving up.

Dr. Carson and Eric Campbell, PA-C saw the spasms in Ashley’s hips and legs. They also noticed Ashley couldn’t stand up without pushing heavily on the arms of the chair, not the correct way to rise from a chair. Dr. Carson suspected arthritis of the spine. Ashley was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, Sjogren’s Syndrome, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Crohn’s and a Lupus rash.

Ashley started treatment to get her condition under control. “It took some time to get the cocktail right. I tried Sulfasalazine, Plaquenil, and Remicade. The turning point for me was Remicade. I call it my unicorn juice,” says Ashley. She also takes Methotrexate in pill form every Friday.

“Oklahoma Arthritis Center has given me so much of my life back,” says Ashley. She continues to see Eric Campbell, PA-C. “I like seeing Eric because I can email him and get help quickly. Eric spent so much time with me explaining my diagnosis and what was going on with my body. He made me feel comfortable and I realized I had hope.”

“Everyone here understands me and I feel heard,” says Ashley. “The infusion nurses take great care of me and it’s therapeutic to be around others that have similar diseases. This feels like a second home.”

Ashley is glad to have a diagnosis and a treatment path. Ashley realizes she cannot work like she used to but she is looking forward to finding her new path.

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