And today, it still alters many men's lives.
Fifty-eight-year-old Michael Smith developed ankylosing spondylitis, or A.S., in 1980 and it changed his life.
The disease fused the 24 separate bones of his spine into a single poker stiff rod, and affected joints in his legs, as well.
"I was having some low back pain and went to see someone about it and he said I should take hot showers and that it was in my head," Michael said.
But Dr. Millicent Stone would not have given Michael that advice. She's a researcher at the Hospital for Special Surgery working on A.S. and is aware of how early symptoms like his can later turn a spine and neck rigid.
"It can be devastating to patients and it affects them at a young age and it doesn't go away," Dr. Stone said.
The disease is hereditary and often begins in a person's teens and is much more common in men than in women.
But now, there is a breakthrough treatment that has come from research labs like the one at the Hospital for Special Surgery.
Three drugs - enbrel, humira and remicade - can reduce the severe joint inflammation in the spine and other joints that causes the spinal bones to fuse. Remicade is used intravenously every two months or so. It can't reverse damage, but it may prevent the illness or limit its effects if given early in the disease.
Michael's using remicade. He now has more flexibility, even after just one treatment.
"It's overwhelming the fatigue that sits on you with spondylitis. It was just gone," said Michael.
To work best, the drugs should be started at the first sign of symptoms.
"We may have the opportunity to intervene in this window of opportunity and prevent this disease from progressing," Dr. Stone said.
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