Ben defies early odds

For Ben, growing up was painful, literally.

The diagnosis of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 2, started him on a difficult path of hospital stays and bed-ridden days. This lasted for most of his childhood and a lot of his adolescence.

It all began with excruciating pain from a swollen elbow and swollen knee. Within 12 months, the disease had spread through his whole body from his jaw to his little toes.

At age 4 while taking massive doses of aspirin and steroids, Ben had a curious conversation with his mother after an appointment with a rheumatologist.

“She said that the rheumatologist felt that by the time I was 5, I would probably be in a wheelchair and unlikely to get out of the wheelchair after that, which was not great news,” Ben says.

“And then mum said, ‘he also said that it’s unlikely that you’re going to live past your 10th birthday’.

“That was mainly due to the drugs that wasn’t due to the disease itself.

“Juvenile arthritis is not necessarily life threatening in most circumstances.”

Ben not only made it past his 10th birthday and got out of his wheelchair; he is now in his early 50s, and has packed in a lot between then and now.

As a proud family man, radio announcer, consumer advocate, West Australian Football League Colts coach and avid golfer, Ben has defied all expectations of those early days. He credits starting exercise with a physiotherapist at the age of 12 for a major turnaround.

“She helped us design a program that specifically worked on my core strength and hips and my knees,” Ben says.

“I was actually able to get up out of the wheelchair and walk and I managed to get back on my feet and be able to walk at school, unaided, which was really quite wonderful.

“It felt good to prove the experts wrong.

“At the time it was the greatest achievement in my life; I was so wrapped to gain that independence, which I still value most highly today.

“My brother and my sister were champion swimmers back in the day and they had trophies and ribbons all over their rooms and we were all obviously very proud of them.

“I knew that I wouldn’t ever get a trophy or a ribbon for anything but my mum decided that this was worthy of a trophy so she went out and bought me one.

“She had it engraved for courage and determination in being able to walk and I’ve still got it on my shelf here.”

While still having ups and downs since then, Ben says that the disease has been in remission for many years now but as far as the future goes, he takes every day as it comes.

“I don’t look that far in the future, I never really have,” Ben says.

‘If I wake up one day and I’ve got things planned then it’s a good day.

“I spent far too many days as a child lying in bed wondering when was the next time I was going to be able to do anything.

“It’s always nice to have dreams and aspirations but I guess I still take it one day at a time and enjoy every experience as much as I can.”