For me, the love for singing goes back to my earliest memories. As a young lad of immigrants from the Netherlands, my mother had taught me some traditional songs in Dutch. As a member of our youth choir in church, I performed these songs at Christmastime from the church balcony. Later, I sang in school choruses and sang the tenor lead in my Junior High School operetta, Marianne. Singing was a major part of my life in school, church and with a large male chorus in my hometown in Michigan.
In general, life was very full with great interests in family, church, architectural drawing, building, machine design and varied engineering positions with General Motors for nearly 38 years. I also found great pleasure in domestic and world travel, sports, gardening and serving our local hospital as one of its associate Chaplains.
My wife and I retired to North Carolina in 1989 and found a new and cherished life here. It was paradise away from cold weather and a wonderful experience of southern hospitality. However, after enjoying two years here, I began to experience hearing and voice problems. This situation led me to an ear, nose and throat specialist. Since I sang in three choral groups, the loss of my ability to sing was devastating to me and I was told to find other interests as singing was no longer an option. I also began to develop severe pain and swelling in my hands and feet which restricted me further from the many activities I enjoyed.
My condition grew worse. After several tests and various treatments with no success, I was referred to rheumatologist, Dr. Mary Anne Dooley, at UNC’s Thurston Arthritis Research Center. After a thorough examination, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s syndrome. Both of these are autoimmune disorders. I also have osteoarthritis which started years before. With Dr. Dooley’s knowledge, compassion, detective abilities and prescribed treatment, my life soon became very livable again. This association with Dr. Dooley became my introduction to the Thurston Arthritis Research Center.
My life took on a whole new meaning from those very dark days back in 1991 and 1992. Thanks to Dr. Dooley and the center, in 1995 I was able to sing with the North Carolina Symphony! And in 1996, I asked Dr. Dooley if I was completely out of my mind to consider walking in an international four-day 100 mile walkathon in the Netherlands. I had completed this walk once before in 1951 and was the first American civilian to participate. Dr. Dooley said she thought this would be a good goal for me and I completed the walk in even less time than when I was 17 years old! With my interests in building and construction, I went to Belize a couple of years later and laid cement blocks constructing two classrooms at a mission school. Today, I again sing in three different choruses and do some solo work at church, play golf and enjoy my life in so many ways.
It is with the dedication of researchers and physicians who have given so richly of their education, time and talent to provide many others like me the chance to live positive, productive and satisfying lives. Not that there haven’t been some bumps in the road at times, but with the help and close monitoring of my condition, Dr. Dooley and Thurston have given me many good years.
How can I ever thank the Thurston Arthritis Center’s researchers, physicians and staff for all they given to me and to North Carolina? From a personal perspective, I have served as a Thurston Advisory Board member for many years and as Board Chairman for two years. I continue to serve as an advocate for the importance of greater funding for arthritis research and a spokesperson on behalf of the center. Other volunteer activities have included: co-leader for arthritis self help programs, assisting in the establishment of UNC Specialty Clinics in Sanford, NC and continued follow-up of its facility needs, helping with health fairs and fundraising. Most recently, I was able to assist Dr. Dooley with Thurston’s International Lupus Symposium which gathered lupus researchers from around the world to share information on the latest advancements in therapeutic treatment. My wife and I have also been Thurston Club donors and Co-Founders to the Medical Foundation for a number of years.
However, all of this falls far short of the gratitude I feel for Doc Jones Thurston, Jr.’s vision and philanthropy and to all of those who have made the Thurston Arthritis Research Center a reality.
LIFE IS GOOD!