TACKLING NEW HEIGHTS WITH SARCOIDOSIS
Stewart Armstrong is a force to be reckoned with. Not satisfied with taming his sarcoidosis and life-threatening aspergillosis, last year he demonstrated just what can be achieved, by climbing the height of Mount Everest.
Stewart’s health journey started about eleven years ago when colleagues noticed his persistent cough and shortness of breath. An X-ray revealed multiple shadows on Stewart’s lungs, and after a series of tests he was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, an autoimmune condition in which the body attacks its own tissues and organs.
While, for many, symptoms can improve without treatment, Stewart’s condition was getting worse. “In the time between my first X-ray and my diagnosis, I went from having shadows on the lungs to having cavities,” Stewart tells This Is MedTech. “Once the cavities were spotted, I was put on medication.”
Having been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition, Stewart was determined to challenge himself and his condition, and began a training programme to transform his fitness. “I did a 12-week body transformation, just to prove that I could still be fit and healthy,” Stewart recalls.
Stewart’s determination was called into action again a few years later when he began coughing up blood. This time, computerised tomography (CT) scans and diagnostic tests revealed Stewart had chronic pulmonary aspergillosis, growth of the mould aspergillus in his lungs, and he was given a 50% chance of surviving 12–18 months. Despite having a year of severe ill-health, Stewart made a miraculous recovery and once again employed his trademark determination to get his fitness back.
Starting small, with progressive breathing exercises and short walks, Stewart used home devices and monitors to set goals and provide inspiration.
“Having a smart watch, or even your phone in your pocket to measure your steps, allows you to set achievable targets and monitor your progress,” he says. Monitoring his oxygen saturation levels and lung capacity, and inputting his readings into his phone, also helped during his recovery. “Even if there is a day where I feel tired, I can look back three years ago and see that one bad day today is what a good day looked like a few years ago,” he explains.
While doctors continue to monitor Stewart’s health and medication using blood tests, lung-function tests and scans, Stewart also takes extra precautions and uses air filters in his home and car and a nebuliser for essential oils. But he never lets his sarcoidosis or aspergillosis hold him back and he continues to run a successful business, using the enforced break over the Covid lockdown in 2020 to climb the height of Mount Everest using the seafront steps in his hometown in the UK.
“When it comes to sarcoidosis, there are two things: accepting that part of you has gone, but also realising that the human body will adapt,” Stewart reflects. “If you put in the consistency, three months or a year, you will be surprised what you can do.”