Dietrich Sölter is a 29-year-old from Seattle, whose graphic photos of his hand surgery for rheumatoid arthritis went viral on Reddit.
Sölter was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 21, and because his doctors didn't take preventive measures, he had severe bone deformities by age 29.
"One day my fingers swelled up and never went down," Sölter said. Four months later, a rheumatologist diagnosed him with rheumatoid arthritis and "mixed connective tissue disease." Unfortunately, the steroids used to treat arthritis didn't work for Sölter or caused horrible side effects. In 2011, he even went to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to participate in autoimmune research, where doctors also diagnosed him with psoriatic arthritis. Without sufficient treatment, Sölter developed a "boutonniere deformity," where the muscles contract and tendons "bend" the finger, as pictured above.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes painful inflammation and deformity of the joints of your hands and feet.
It most commonly affects women between the ages of 40 and 60, but it can affect younger people as well. The disorder ranges in severity but it can become incredibly painful, and there is no cure — only prevention from further deformities. Genetics are a major risk factor, but Sölter said there is no history of arthritis or any other autoimmune disease in his immediate family.
"The pain from arthritis makes you unable to do things you could do so easily for your entire life — even tying your shoe or dressing yourself is difficult," he said.
Sölter said he hopes his story helps spread awareness of rheumatoid arthritis in young people.
"It's rare but people should know that something like this can happen to a young, healthy person." Sölter said. "I don't want to sound dreadful, but honestly, enjoy your life while you're healthy because you never know if something like this can pop up and take a vast majority of the joy out of your life." Sölter says that documenting his experiences through a blog has been incredibly helpful.
Luckily, Sölter is expected to regain significant mobility in his hand and hopes to pursue a career in IT once he recovers and his autoimmune disorders are under control.