“I wasn’t open enough about how difficult my life was, so the pain stayed hidden for a long time.”

15 May 2020
Keir Anstey sat in a chair and his family.
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Keir is 35 and lives with his wife and kids in Eastbourne. He’s recovering from a total knee replacement after living with severe osteoarthritis throughout his twenties.

It’s been a long and difficult journey which started when he was a teenager, but with the help of his family, and by shifting his mindset to focus on the positives, Keir is firmly on the road to recovery.

“It was a huge, huge shock.”

As a teenager I played for Norwich FC youth academy. Being part of that was special - we’d always see the professionals training or in the canteen having their lunch. I ended up being released from the academy, which upset me at first, but I felt it was the right thing.

Being active and playing football was my life, so I moved on and trained at university to become a PE teacher. In my second year of studying I ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in my left knee while playing football. I soon got back on my feet – lots of people do after this injury. But it was never quite the same, and gradually things got worse and worse.

By the time I was 26, my GP referred me to the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore. I met a doctor there - who I now know very well – and he told me I had grade 4 osteoarthritis in my knee.

It was a massive shock. I couldn’t believe it was so severe.

“Everyday activities became a huge struggle.”

I had two quite successful stem cell transplants not long after being diagnosed, but over the next five or six years the pain worsened.

When I’d watch football at the stadium, I had to take up more than one chair to stretch out my leg. It was the same when going to the doctors – I had to take up more space than everyone else. I was a young, healthy guy, so I just knew that other people were probably thinking I was rude.

Eventually I lost most of the movement in my knee and decided to retrain as a history teacher.

“I found it hard to talk about.”

I was angry and felt very low. I couldn’t believe what was happening to me.

My son was born around this time and I remember struggling to do the really simple but important things, like giving him a bath, or bending down to pick him up if he fell over. After my daughter was born, it was the same all over again.

Even though the pain was constant, it was also invisible, and I didn’t open up about my feelings. Looking back, I would’ve loved having someone to talk to who was going through the same thing.

It got to the point where it was all too much.

“It was a breath of fresh air.”

When I was 34, a surgeon told me I needed a total knee replacement. His perspective was that I need a good knee now, while me and my family are young. It felt like a breath of fresh air. For ages, I was told by others I’d have to wait, but he was different.

A week before my 35th birthday I had the surgery and, today, the arthritic pain is gone. Although, the recovery has been stupidly difficult.

I’m so grateful for my family, who’ve taken brilliant care of me throughout this entire journey. I’d say my wife has taken the brunt of it, and in some ways, it’s actually been more difficult for her than for me. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s definitely made us all stronger.

“Setting goals and focusing on the positives has got me where I am today.”

I’ve had a real shift in my outlook. Paying attention to my environment and surroundings, like my amazing family and my career, has helped me focus on the positives instead of the negatives. I’m now less angry at my situation. I’m no longer consumed by it.

For example, I know I won’t be able to play football again, so I’m not aiming for this huge, unlikely goal, and that’s okay. I’ve managed to get back into exercising by giving myself smaller things to aim for.

The dream now would be to play a competitive sport one day. I’m thinking about trying tennis. Just to be able to do a knock-about would be life changing.

It’s good to be on the other side, where I look at things in this more positive way.

It’s not alright – it’s arthritis.

By staying quiet we’re keeping arthritis invisible and ignored. Too often, people hold back from talking about what they’re going through.

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