Angelo Georgitsos knows a thing or two about determination. He’s an RCMP officer who loves his job and who serves his community with diligence, despite a painful, chronic health condition. In December of 2009, he was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis (PsA). A type of inflammatory arthritis, PsA is associated with the autoimmune disease psoriasis and it’s characterized by swelling, stiffness and pain in the joints.
The news was a blow for a hard-working man who, just a little over four years earlier, had earned his first posting with the national police service. “I felt that my life and career were over,” he recalls, adding no one had ever been able to continue working as a police officer with this type of arthritis.
The word arthritis means joint inflammation and it’s an umbrella term that includes over 100 related ailments. Angelo is one of 4.6 million Canadians living with some form of arthritis and he is also a role model for what’s possible. Thanks to comprehensive treatment and excellent support from his employer, this Nepean father of two is still going strong in his job.
“If you had asked me two years ago, I would have said this was impossible,” he admits. But history shows he’s not one to give up. Prior to employment with the RCMP, he was an automotive technician by day. In the evenings, he headed to his second job at the Ottawa Hospital’s Civic campus. For 10 years, he worked from 8 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. each day.
When, at age 37, he was hired by the RCMP as an automotive technician, he didn’t waste the opportunity. Four years later, in August of 2005, he graduated as a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer, having passed an exam, met security requirements and completed training. His wife Olga, a nurse, and his seven-year-old twins Costa and Eleni stayed in Ottawa while he did six months of training in Saskatchewan. However his first posting was in Kelowna, British Columbia, so the family pulled up stakes.
After all that, only three years later he knew something was wrong. “My right wrist was in constant unbearable pain,” he explains. A CT scan confirmed it had chronic damage. Regardless, he kept working. His ankle was sore as well, but he didn’t take time off work. “I had no idea that all my joint pain was related to psoriatic arthritis.”
When he was transferred to Ottawa in 2009, Angelo finally saw a specialist and got a diagnosis: PsA. A management plan was put in place, involving medication, vitamins, rest, relaxation and stress elimination. Angelo took time off work, as recommended by his rheumatologist, and then the force provided him with a less stressful job while the specialist attempted to reduce the pain further.
Through this ordeal, he often wondered how he could turn a negative situation into a positive. Then he did something about it: “I became involved with the Arthritis Society as a spokesperson. I asked RCMP Chief Superintendent Marty Cheliak to support me and this cause; without hesitation he agreed to help.”
For over a year now, Angelo has been back on the job. “Some days are more painful than others but I continue to get up and go to work,” he says, adding, “I enjoy being in the police cruiser. I enjoy helping the public.” And his RCMP superiors are very supportive of his efforts. “I have a lot of admiration for Angelo, for his tenacity, for his perseverance,” says Superintendent Luc Lemire, Officer in Charge of General Duty Protective Policing. “He’s certainly a good example for his children and his colleagues.”
He’s also committed to supporting others with arthritis who want to stay active in the workforce. “I understand that life is not easy,” Angelo points out. “Let’s keep going and keep helping others.”