Gabe Koury was 30 years old when he was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a type of arthritis that primarily affects the spine
His first reaction was anger.
“I was mad at my body. This wasn’t due to an accident or an injury. My body just decided to act against its own best interest. I’ll have to fight my body for the rest of my life.”
Gabe had been suffering from back pain but didn’t think much of it for years. He’d feel tightness in his muscles and would have difficulty bending down or getting out of bed. He attributed this to the rigour of his work in Toronto’s restaurant and bar scene, standing up for long hours on hard floors. He also skateboards a lot in his free time and knows that can take a toll.
As things got worse, he eventually consulted a general practitioner (GP), who wrongfully diagnosed his pain as symptoms of degenerative disc disease. Gabe then tried physiotherapy, osteopathy and acupuncture to find some relief.
While discussing Gabe’s symptoms, one of his therapists had a feeling a different ailment was affecting him and suggested he see another GP for a second opinion. After an MRI and some further tests, Gabe got the AS diagnosis.
“I had no clue what that meant. I didn’t know this disease even existed. I had to do a lot of research and the Arthritis Society’s website really helped with that.”
This June, Gabe was also diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory disease of the digestive tract, adding a layer of complexity to his medical team’s pursuit of the right treatment.
The now 32-year-old works as a freelancer, writing press releases for bands and booking bands for one of Toronto’s live venues. He is also pursuing a career as a stand-up comedian and you can catch him doing gigs in Toronto, his hometown of Montreal and places in between. He’s been hosting Montreal’s Pouzza Fest’s comedy events for years and has no issues with travelling long hours to make it happen.
Gabe recently adjusted his diet by cutting the late-night junk food and making sure to eat healthy foods before coming in for work.
“Working late nights, with random sleep patterns and the bad diet that come with it was fast-tracking me to hit a wall. It was unsustainable and I had to change that.
“I also realized I would never stretch properly before being active. That made no sense. I put a lot of emphasis on that now. Yoga also helps improve my flexibility and I make sure to constantly add it to my routine.”
Being confined to his downtown apartment during the pandemic didn’t stop him from staying active either. He would replace the weights of the gym with record boxes and trade the treadmill for bike rides to the waterfront.
An avid reader and ever-curious person, Gabe listens to many podcasts on a variety of subjects. He remembers hearing about Spencer Hamilton, a pro-skateboarder from Vancouver, who is living with a similar condition. He felt a connection to that story.
“I reached out to him because he felt like someone I could relate to. I mentioned I thought it was cool that he talked about his struggles openly. I wish I had heard him before I got my diagnosis, I would have connected the dots sooner!”
Six million Canadians like Gabe live with arthritis. By sharing his story, he hopes it will raise awareness about this debilitating disease and prevent others from suffering and guessing for years.