A pocketknife is an unlikely item to be on a fully-grown woman's Christmas wishlist, but it was a necessity for Kelly O'Hara when her rheumatoid arthritis was at its worst. The disease made everyday activities like opening cans and food packets a painful torture and left her zonked out in bed by 5pm some nights. Bay of Plenty Times reporter Jean Bell has a chat to O'Hara to find out more about her battle with the disease, the Russian roulette of finding medication that worked and where she is now.
"Mummy, are you dying?"
It is perhaps the most heart-breaking question Kelly O'Hara has fielded since she developed rheumatoid arthritis in 2011.
But eight years down the track, the 43-year-old, who also has Sjögren's syndrome, Raynaud's phenomenon, and fibromyalgia, is calling for more awareness around invisible diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
The Pāpāmoa mother of three boisterous and sporty boys - Jesse, 13, Levi, 11, and Joel, 8 - started to suffer "horrific" symptoms when her youngest was 6 months old.
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Her baby had digestive issues and required feeding every 45 minutes, but O'Hara was debilitated by the condition.
Her husband would have to pick the baby up and change his nappy because she was in so much pain.
"I couldn't hold him because I hurt too much," she said. "It was like everything was broken."
She would slide on her bottom down the stairs in her two-storey home - not for fun, but because it hurt too much to walk. She also could not lift her arms above her head.
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She said some family members doubted her illness at first because she did not look outwardly unwell.
The search for treatment began soon after, which was a process of painstaking trial and error to find the right drugs.
Oral chemotherapy and anti-malaria tablets were among the options she exhausted before finding a type of steroid that worked for her.
The chemo caused her hair to fall out and the tablets left her like a "stunned mullet".
While the steroids relieved her symptoms, the powerful drugs also brought some unwelcome side effects.
She became quite anxious - "it's like you're on coffee all the time" - and had trouble sleeping.
As O'Hara's illness endured, the stresses of daily life and being a mum to three boys under the age of 5 began to pile up.
Other side effects of the drugs were extreme fatigue and, ironically, insomnia.
It was common for her to lock the front gate, put a DVD on and put food out for the kids, before crashing out on the floor for sleep.
"I would lose consciousness," she said. "I would fade and head to the couch."
But during those long sleepless nights, O'Hara was not one to sit around and twiddle her thumbs. She used some of the time to build websites and Facebook pages.
"I got a lot accomplished," she said before laughing. "You've got to keep going. You have no choice. I've got children to care for."
In 2013, she developed a rheumatoid nodule and a scar on her ankle marks where she had surgery. She came off the steroids that year and began seeing a holistic doctor in addition to a specialist at Grace Hospital.
Six years on, life is largely back to normal, aside from keeping a careful watch on her diet and ensuring she had enough sleep to avoid flares.
She was now a "supplement queen" and takes a wide range of natural medicines including anti-inflammatory medicines, fish oil and liquid vitamin C.
She was a spokeswoman for Arthritis New Zealand's recent annual appeal week.
Arthritis New Zealand chief executive Philip Kearney said all the funds raised in Tauranga from the appeal will be spent in the region to help provide services and support for local people who have arthritis.
In New Zealand, Kearney said 146,246 people aged 15 or over had rheumatoid arthritis and 25,566 were aged 55 or younger.
According to Kearney, 1.5 per cent of people in the Bay of Plenty DHB area had rheumatoid arthritis.
What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is a common inflammatory form of arthritis that causes painful, stiff, swollen joints and can affect people of any age. Instead of protecting the body from infection, the immune system attacks healthy tissue instead, causing inflammation and joint damage.
Source: Arthritis New Zealand