A DUDLEY woman who was diagnosed with debilitating arthritis at the age of just 37 has turned to art to help manage her condition and give her a focus.

Bev Thomas paints for at least an hour most days and says it helps with her symptoms while also allowing her to forget about her condition for a while.

Determined not to let arthritis take over her life, Bev, aged 58, said: "You can either sink or swim in life and I choose to swim.

"I can’t do what I used to do but I’ve adapted. I have three daughters and four grandchildren and there are a lot of positives in my life.”

Bev, who has both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, has had a hip replacement and two knee replacements and is part of a clinical drugs trial at The Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust.

She said: “It started with a spinal backache and I had a worn disc by the age of 40. I was told I would be in a wheelchair at 50 but I won’t give in.”

The rheumatology team at Russells Hall Hospital have worked with Bev on clinical trials and she has now been on a drug for almost six years which has slowed the progress of the arthritis down so she has maintained some mobility.

She said: “My consultant Dr Adrian Pace and the nurses who look after me have become my second family."

Inspired by a family friend and supported by husband Mark, Bev took up painting two years ago - having enjoyed drawing as a child.

Until lockdown she attended art classes at Learning4Life in Wordsley and was full of praise for her tutors Jacqui Chase and Tim Jarvis.

She began with watercolours but now enjoys painting in acrylics.

Although she had arthritis between her wrist and thumb, she says painting helps to stop the joint seizing up.

Dr Pace praised Bev’s response to her condition and she said: “She has painted quite a few beautiful paintings in acrylics and I have suggested that she displays them in an exhibition. They send out a strong message to patients to be positive about their illnesses and weakness and to discover new talents.”

The rheumatology service at the Dudley Group takes an active part in clinical research and trials, and supports training in the West Midlands and through the British Society for Rheumatology.

Dudley is one of only a handful of rheumatology departments to have a dedicated health psychologist to help support patients, and its reputation means it attracts trainees and research fellows from countries including Greece and Sri Lanka.

Consultant Dr Rainer Klocke has been shortlisted for the British Society for Rheumatology best practice award for a care pathway, while service lead Dr Holly John collaborated with the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, winning a West Midlands Academic Health Science Network Award for health prevention and a CRN Clinical Research Impact Award.