Danny Bramman spent his whole life in crippling pain until he was put on the same wonder drug that gave golfer Ian Woosnam his swing back.
Since childhood, Danny has suffered from ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a form of arthritis that also afflicts the Welsh sportsman. But both men saw an amazing improvement in their chronic condition after trying new pain-killing injections.
Danny, 49, says the new drug has been ‘life-changing’. The pain became so bad he was about to quit his job as an accountant but the injections have enabled him to continue working and even have a social life.
AS is a hereditary back condition that causes progressive stiffening of the spine and can also affect joints in the shoulders, hips and knees. In extreme cases, it causes pain in all joints and leads to permanent loss of movement.
For years, Danny was in pain night and day and could barely walk but three hours after the first pain-killing injection he noticed a huge improvement and 12 hours later he had hardly any pain.
He says: ‘I went from a very high level of constant pain to virtually no pain at all. It’s changed my life. I stopped looking like an old man and started looking my age. Suddenly I could move my back which hadn’t moved in 25 years.’
Danny says: ‘It was so bad I couldn’t sleep lying down and spent every night in an armchair. It was extremely difficult as a teenager living like that, and not having a diagnosis or effective treatment.’
Once diagnosed with AS at the age of 18, Danny was put on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These block chemicals in the body that produce inflammation and help to relieve pain and stiffness. Danny also needed painkillers and ended up on 15 pills a day. In addition, he tried swimming and other gentle exercises to reduce stiffness.
The drugs controlled the pain but did not take it away completely, while the side effects also gave Danny stomach ulcers. His condition became worse as he got older and he spent the next 30 years in constant discomfort.
AS puts a lot of strain on the joints and three years ago Danny needed a hip replacement. He also suffers from osteoporosis and needs a quarterly infusion of a drug to help him absorb calcium.
‘Every morning I spent an hour in a scalding hot bath to loosen up. I couldn’t get dressed without help from my wife and then I’d go to work and feel increasingly worse. After work, I was exhausted.’
Then in 2005, Danny was assessed to try a new drug that has been used for rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. The drug called etanercept is a type of anti-TNF therapy which blocks the action of TNF, a protein in the blood that increases inflammation. Up to 300 rheumatology patients at Barts and The London NHS Trust are now on the new treatment.
Patients are screened and their level of disease is assessed as the new drug is offered to the worst cases. On a score of 1 to ten with ten worst, Danny scored eight. Within three months of being on the new drug, his score came down to three.
Etanercept is taken as a weekly injection. It may weaken the immune system so there is a risk of infection, but so far Danny has suffered no side effects.
Better still, Danny has seen a huge improvement in his condition. His rheumatology nurse says: ‘Danny’s life has improved dramatically. He’s more independent and has a social life. I used to see him in clinic every two weeks, now I only see him once a year.’