UAE resident, arthritis 'warrior' raises awareness for disease

Abu Dhabi - Diagnosed at just 14, she now has her own swimming academy at the Habtoor Hotels Group.


Saman Haziq

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Published: Fri 15 Oct 2021, 4:20 PM

Last updated: Fri 15 Oct 2021, 11:46 PM

A young Polish national who was a keen sports enthusiast was left immobile after the onset of arthritis when she was just 14. Now in her 20s, UAE resident Karolina Soroko has learned to manage the disease by making lifestyle changes and is also a swimming coach who runs her own swimming academy.

The arthritis warrior also creates awareness about the disease and helps patients live a better life. Karolina was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis at the age of 14 after contracting tonsillitis.

"As a kid I developed acute tonsillitis which was clearing in short breaks and lasted super long, due to which my immune system collapsed and attacked my joints leading to what is called Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis or Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA)," she told Khaleej Times.

Explaining Karolina's condition, Dr Humeira Badsha, consultant rheumatologist and board member at Middle East Arthritis Foundation, said: "Arthritis affects millions of people worldwide and one in five people in the UAE. Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis is the most common kind of arthritis seen in kids and teenagers and usually affects 1 in 1000 children."

"In JIA, a child's immune system malfunctions for some reason, attacking the body, especially the joints. It has difficulty telling the difference between the body's own tissues and external germs or organisms. This confusion makes the immune system attack the body's healthy tissues. That's what we call an auto-immune disease and that's what causes the inflammation characteristic of JIA."

Karolina was a keen sports enthusiast and was physically active in many sports as a teenager, including horse riding, gymnastics, and basketball among others. The onset of this disease affected her joints severely, and she no longer had the flexibility or strength to participate in any sports activities for a little over three years.

After a year of numerous tests, scans, and hospitalisation, she was finally diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. It continued to affect her body, which resulted in her developing bilateral osteoporosis in her hips.

At the age of 26, Karolina began experiencing back pain and joint swelling, which eventually led to immobility. However, her determination led her to research her condition. She also decided to rehabilitate people to reintegrate into society and to live their lives to the fullest.

After a couple of years of dealing with this physical condition and the depression and anxiety that came along, she joined support groups and interacted with individuals who had similar conditions, quickly realising that she was not the only one who needed help.

"I haven't beaten the disease, but I have overcome the adversity that it has brought me through patience, perseverance and education. My research into my condition has helped me lead my life on my terms and conditions. I have learned to steer my life in the direction that I want to go in, not in the direction that this condition would normally take you by taking control," she advised.

The support from her friends, peers, and passion for being active led her to swim, which helped her body regain posture, mobility, and flexibility.

Karolina has been a qualified swimming coach since 2011, where she had her own swim school in London. She is now practising in the UAE and has started her own swimming academy at the Habtoor Hotels Group. Her aim is to create more awareness about this condition, educate and inspire the masses about the importance of exercise and staying active with arthritis. She has been an active member of Middle East Arthritis Foundation since 2021.

"It is now my mission to help those suffering from all forms of rheumatoid arthritis through rehabilitation in the form of swimming. Swimming is the only sport that provides cardiovascular fitness endurance and muscle strength without impacting the joints. Moreover, it promotes mind, body and soul healing for those who are willing to put in the effort to fight their condition," she said.


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