55 years old, Arnold-Chiari malformation type I.

“My name is Jean-Paul. I am 55 years old, married and father to a wonderful daughter.

I used to do a lot of sports. I played football and was even referee, and trainer for a few years. On top of that I used to run, cycle, swim and go to the gym. I also participated in 10K races, semi-marathons, duathlons, and triathlons.

Then in 2003, following an accident, I started seeing different doctors, physio- and psychotherapist because I was experiencing frequent back and neck pain, as well as headaches. In 2005 I was finally diagnosed with Arnold-Chiari malformation type I.

Chiari malformation is a structural defect in the cerebellum. It is characterised by headaches, swallowing difficulties, nausea, dizziness, neck pain, an unsteady gait, poor hand coordination, and tingling or numbness of the hand & feet. In addition, the following symptoms may appear; slow or fast heart rhythm, problems of the spine, abnormal breathing, such as central sleep apnoea, which is characterised by periods where you stop breathing in your sleep. In severe cases it can also cause paralysis.

While I did between 12-20 hours of sports per week back until 2003, today I have difficulties doing any sports at all. I can only do physical activities (going for walks, cycling) when I am not in too much pain.

Due to new health complications I decided to get in touch with ALAN – Maladies Rares Luxembourg earlier this year. I have received invaluable support and am learning to cope differently with my disease. For example, I started doing daily exercises like Yin Yoga or Progressive Relaxation.

I am sharing my story to solicit everyone to not judge people who appear to have physical or mental difficulties, because these people might have a rare disease or other chronic health problems. Please be open and don’t judge others based on their looks or abilities, because you too may develop a disease at some point. I am hoping that in the future people with a rare or chronic disease will face less judgement and more understanding.”

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