It's all about celebrating the little things. This brave mom sent her loved ones a poignant snap of herself biting into her first apple in two years, to mark the first anniversary of a steel and plastic jaw. And, it tastes like "winning the lottery."
Jo Montgomery was hammered by excruciating pain, as rheumatoid arthritis crumbled her jaw. For years she could only open her mouth by two inches, and just ate soup and smoothies. She even had to quit her job because of the constant pain.
Just 10 when she was first diagnosed with the agonizing condition, Montgomery had already endured numerous operations when a dull ache in her jaw at the start of 2018 signaled further problems ahead.
“It got to the point where I couldn't sleep. I couldn't function. It became so painful that I simply couldn't bear it," she said.
“I've always made the best of a bad situation, but this was as close to the edge as I could possibly get. I didn't want to get up in the morning anymore."
“My jaw joints were starting to crumble. I couldn't sleep, I couldn't eat, and the pain was constant – for every second of every minute of every hour of every day."
Jo had the joints in her jaw replaced with steal (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I had to give up my job and my parents, partner and sons basically did everything for me for a year," she continued.
She was referred to Glasgow's Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in March 2018. And scans revealed that the joints connecting her jaw and skull had begun to erode, this is known as temporomandibular disorder (TMD).
Montgomery was put on a waiting list for surgery. In the meantime she had four rounds of saline injections administered into her jaw to wash away debris from the eroding joints, as an effort to alleviate the pain.
But, with the treatment offering scant relief, by March 2019, she was finally scheduled for an eight-and-a-half hour operation to replace her jaw joint with a 3D printed model made of surgical steel and plastic.
“I was more concerned for my mental health than my physical health by that point," she admitted.
Jo with her sons, Archie and Theo (PA Real Life/Collect)
Montgomery was nine when she first started experiencing aching joints. Her parents initially suspected she had nothing more than "growing pains."
“It went on for about a year," Montgomery explained. “At first, I thought I'd slept on my arm funny, but there were constant aches in my arms and legs."
Jo was taunted at school because of her arthritis (PA Real Life/Collect)
“Then, one morning my mum saw my hands and said, 'Oh my goodness – those aren't my daughter's hands," she continued.
After visiting the family GP, she was referred straight to Dumfries And Galloway Royal Infirmary (DGRI) in Dumfries, where doctors ran blood tests and X-rays.
She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, and her parents were taken into a side room by the pediatric consultant, leaving Jo “fearing for her life."
“I felt so isolated and withdrawn after the diagnosis. Everything I enjoyed – ballet, gymnastics, dance – I had to stop," she said.
“It's all so vague back then, but I have a stand out memory of my parents being taken into a room and everyone looking very serious. I honestly thought I was dying."
An X-Ray of Jo's new jaw (PA Real Life/Collect)
Montgomery was put on a course of anti-inflammatory medication and told to take part in as little physical activity as possible, in a bid to slow down the disease's progression.
But her withdrawal from physical activities at school led to bullying by other children.
“I was bullied for the way that I looked. I was so skinny with deformed joints – some people even teased me for being anorexic," she said.
Theo, Jo and Archie (PA Real Life/Collect)
Just 17 when she had the first in a string of operations related to her arthritis, Montgomery had a joint replacement in her left wrist.
“I'd grown used to dealing with aches and pain over the years but when I reached 17 my body started to attack my wrist and hands," she recalled.
“On the ward, I was surrounded by older people. Since then, whenever anyone meets me on a ward they'll say, 'Oh my goodness, how have you got this? You're so young.'"
Scars on Jo's hands from numerous operations (PA Real Life/Collect)
When she was 20, Montgomery began working as an optician's assistant, but soon she was back at DGRI having a complete fusion of the bones in both wrists.
Soon after, she met her ex-partner and the father to her sons Theon and Archie.
“I made the conscious decision to become a mom as soon as possible," Montgomery said. “It was one of the few things I was in control of."
Did you know our researchers are looking at the role genes play in putting some people at risk of developing inflam… https://t.co/5HlKntTwmI— Versus Arthritis (@Versus Arthritis)1583413396.0
“The midwives kept an eye on me but both pregnancies went very smoothly," she said.
“The minute my first son was born I knew that it wasn't just about me anymore. That helped me in more ways than can be described."
Jo and her partner, Davide (PA Real Life/Collect)
And in 2014, her foot was in so much pain she described it as “worse than childbirth."
After six months, Montgomery eventually had a six-hour operation, again at DGRI, where the damaged cartilage was removed from her foot and replaced with a bone graft from her left hip bone.
Jo after surgery on her right foot (PA Real Life/Collect)
But her outlook improved in 2018 when she started dating Davide Capriglione. That's when her jaw began hurting.
Now celebrating being able to “eat like a normal person again," she describes her new jaw as a “lifesaver."
“I woke up in recovery and straight away felt the difference," she said.
Jo's children, Archie and Theo (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I'd been in so much pain that, even after an eight-hour operation, I felt better," she continued.
Discharged two nights later, she now says she can eat, laugh, smile and sing again.
“Everybody in my life has benefited from the operation," she said. “I'm a happier, brighter person because of it and everyone in my life feels it too."
A major milestone came last month, when she bit into an apple for first time in two years – celebrating her achievement by sending a picture to her family.
While she knows her condition is lifelong, she hopes to manage it.
Theo, Archie and Jo (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I'm never going to be perfect and I'm never going to have the life of a normal person, but I feel like I've been given a second chance," she said.
“It's about maintaining a baseline of pain that is manageable for me."
And she cannot wait to celebrate Davide's 42nd birthday by crunching down on fresh calamari at the couple's favorite tapas restaurant, the Ox and Finch in Glasgow, for the first time since her surgery.
Jo and her partner, Davide (PA Real Life/Collect)
“Davide has been a massive support and I can't wait to celebrate with him," she said,
“I was overjoyed when I bit into that apple for the first time and now I feel like anything's possible."
There are over ten million people living with arthritis in the UK, according to Versus Arthritis. If you need support visit www.versusarthritis.org/