Laughter the best medicine for incurable disorder

DANIEL Gassman was diagnosed with the rare, incurable genetic disorder Rieters syndrome but he believes the best medicine for him is laughter.

The gene is triggered by a viral infection and Daniel said he believed the disease kicked in after enduring a four-month stint with the flu in 2000.

"I would bump myself and the pain would last two or more weeks and then my vision started to blur," Daniel said.

"For two-and-a-half years I went from doctor to doctor trying to find out what was going on.

"My current GP is absolutely brilliant - he did a few tests and sent me to a specialist.

"I visited Professor Nash in Maroochydore - he asked me a couple of questions, got me to walk and said I know what you've got, I just have to do a blood test to prove it."

The 37-year-old said he was diagnosed with Reiters disease - a roaming rheumatoid arthritis.

"I can wake up one morning and my knees aren't working and the next morning my knees are fine and then my hands aren't working," he said.

"There could be days were I was scared to shake people's hands because the amount of pain - I couldn't clench a fist.

I couldn't do anything at all - I ended up with a walking stick for 10 years.

"My specialist was starting me off on all these different medications - I'd trial them - they didn't work, go to the next one, that didn't work, try the next one.

Daniel Gassman with his wife Rebecca.
Daniel Gassman with his wife Rebecca. Robyne Cuerel

"I ended up getting put on methotrexate in 2003, which is an oral form of chemo.

"I've been on prednisone for a long time and I'm still on them today.

"The main issues with the medications are the side effects so I have to get checks every month to make sure my liver and kidneys are OK. Every two years I've got to get a bone density check."

Daniel said the prednisone scared him and his way of coping was to shut the family off.

"It almost destroyed the family when I went into my shell - and then there was the anger - frustrated at not being able to do anything," he said.

His wife of 14 years, Bec, is his full-time carer. "On a bad day I have to drag him to the bathroom, put his shoes on, help him brush his teeth and get him dressed," she said.

Daniel said there were a few things that started getting him positive.

"The main one being I was going to lose my wife and it sort of hit overnight, what the hell I'd been doing," he said.

"One lady at Commonwealth Rehabilitation Services said, 'OK, you've all this pain you're going through - have you ever tried walking through it?'."

"I told her I couldn't do that and she said just try it, you will be amazed at what you can do."

So every night Daniel started to walk around the block.

"Just the block. I did that every night then after a couple of weeks I went two blocks and then four and then eight and then all of a sudden I'm doing a couple of kilometres a night.

"OK ,this is good - the pain is still there, but you fight through it - then all of a sudden I thought well if I can do that I can get back into my weights. So I started off light, but then went a bit overboard.

"It became obsessive, but in saying that my bone density is now that of a 25-year-old."

Bec said he still had his bad days.

"But we live for laughter - the only noise the neighbours can hear is our laughter," she said.

It was two years ago this September Daniel went into remission and he knows the disease isn't going anywhere, but he says he's going to fight it.

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