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Had I Known Then: Ellyn Spragins and Diane on Osteoarthritis

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Ellyn Spragins and Diane Hughes: Had I Known Then about osteoarthritis iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Osteoarthritis is a common joint disorder that greatly impacts the lives of patients. Nearly 27 million individuals in the United States have the condition, which occurs more often in women after the age of 50, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

When an individual has osteoarthritis, there is a breakdown of the cartilage in the affected joint, such as the hips or knees. Having osteoarthritis can affect an individual’s everyday activities.

The Arthritis Foundation noted that the loss of joint function that can occur due to osteoarthritis can reduce an individual’s quality of life. But many individuals wait on average 7 to 11 years before they undergo joint replacement surgery.

To raise awareness on the physical and emotional effects of osteoarthritis, DePuy Orthopaedics has teamed up with The New York Times bestselling author Ellyn Spragins to create HadIKnownThen.com.

The free booklet contains letters from patients to their younger selves, providing encouragement about getting joint replacement surgery.

EmpowHER talked to Ellyn about how these letters to your younger self are empowering and what she hopes the project will do for patients with osteoarthritis. EmpowHER also talked to Diane, a Manhattan-based nurse who had chronic osteoarthritis.


Why is writing a letter to your younger self so empowering?

Ellyn Spragins:

Writing a letter to yourself really touches on a true, emotional journey around whatever that point of difficulty is that you’re facing. I’ve found that writing, as opposed to simply thinking about what you would tell your younger self, has a way of crystallizing your thoughts and the message you’d like to deliver if you could somehow send a letter back in time.

On that same token, it’s also empowering for a reader of the letter when they understand the message the letter writer is sending to his or her younger self. For example, a reader may take away a message that applies to them when it’s written as a subtle message or piece of advice more so than if that advice was directed exactly at them. Because they are reading the words of someone advising their younger self, it’s more acceptable to them.


How does writing a letter to one's younger self help individuals suffering with osteoarthritis?

Ellyn Spragins:

For the majority of the people who wrote letters to their younger selves in the “Had I Known Then” booklet, it was a way for them to really understand that the physical issue they were facing wasn’t just a physical issue.

It was really about the other elements that tied in to the pain they were experiencing: things like fear and lack of knowledge about osteoarthritis and joint replacement surgery. I think the letter writing process gave them a clearer idea of why they went through what they did and how much better things are now after treating their osteoarthritis.


How did osteoarthritis impact your life?


Osteoarthritis impacted my whole life, both physically and emotionally. The pain in my knee was a hindrance and held me back from doing many of the things I love, primarily exercise and sports. It also impacted my relationship with my husband and my friends.


Why did you wait so long before having joint replacement surgery? What was the turning point for you?


I couldn’t go exercising with my friends and, psychologically, I was being left out of the group because I couldn’t participate. I didn’t make an issue of it. I was brought up that you suck it up and move on. My turning point was when I couldn’t walk anymore — my knee was collapsing. I realized wow, this is really serious.


How has having the surgery changed your life?


I have so much energy since my joint replacement. I don’t hesitate to do anything now. For my whole life my knee was a problem and now I don’t even think about it. I don’t have a “crutch” anymore.


How did writing the letter to your younger self help you?


I realized there is no need to continue suffering, I can’t keep prolonging my anxiety. I now know that I need to handle things in a timely manner and not put them off. I also learned that I can’t dwell on things.


What do you hope "Had I Known Then" will do for patients with osteoarthritis?

Ellyn Spragins:

I hope that everyone, especially those who are suffering from joint pain themselves, will visit www.HadIKnownThen.com/ read the inspirational letters and find the handle that will open the door to a story that resonates with them.

I hope that the letters they find will help them to better understand and identify their situation. That they’ll realize “What happened to them is the same thing that’s happening to me. Maybe this is a path I should take; maybe I should talk to a doctor.”

To read Diane’s letter to her younger self, or other letters, visit www.HadIKnownThen.com/


Interview with Ellyn Spragins. Email. 5 December 2012.

Interview with Diane. Email. 5 December 2012.

Press Release. Email. 3 December 2012.

MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Osteoarthritis. Web. 6 December 2012.

Arthritis Foundation. Osteoarthritis Fact Sheet. Web. 6 December 2012

Reviewed December 6, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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