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Tuesday
Apr052011

After Diagnosis, Renowned Pianist Teamed Up with Arthritis Foundation

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Since his Carnegie Hall debut in 1948, Byron Janis has been known as one of the world's greatest pianists. He was regarded as a child prodigy at the age of four and has played for several American presidents.

And even after he was diagnosed with a progressive and painful form of arthritis -- one that threatened to rob him of his career -- he played on.

In 1973, doctors diagnosed him with psoriatic arthritis. The legendary pianist was told by doctors "it doesn't get any better" and that "every concert had the potential of being a serious threat" to his health.

In 1985, former first lady Nancy Reagan announced that Janis had arthritis, and he has been a national spokesman for the Arthritis Foundation ever since.

Nearly 50 million Americans suffer from arthritis, and the condition is second only to heart disease as a cause of work disability, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

Psoriatic arthritis is particularly problematic in people whose livelihood depends on fine motor activities of the fingers, such as musicians and surgeons, said Dr. Joan M. Bathon, professor of medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

"This is because psoriatic arthritis can cause what is called ankylosis of the joints, which means that the bones grow together at the joint, and thus movement of the joint are obliterated," said Bathon. "That means the pianist would not be able to bend a finger in order to press a key."

"Rest is usually the first recommendation for inflamed joints, so when Mr. Janis was still playing the piano, he likely worked through pain and stiffness until his arthritis was controlled with medications," said Dr. Joan Von Feldt, professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

The variety of psoriatic arthritis treatments include non-steroidal inflammatory drugs, oral system therapies and biologic agents.

"Psoriatic arthritis is a very variable disease," said Dr. Nortin Hadler, professor of medicine, microbiology and immunology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "It tends to involve just a few joints and can wax and wane over time. Hence, the fashion in which it interferes with function is very individualized."

"For many patients, most of the time, modifying their activities serves them well," said Hadler. "For some with more joints involved with greater intensity, psoriatic arthritis can be a major challenge."

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ABC News Radio