AFTER years of pain and difficulty, a Bulford man can finally enjoy life again, writes Chrissy Symmons.

Diagnosed with the, largely under-recognised, Ankylosing Spondylitis disease at the age of 28, Mark Weakly resigned himself to a lifetime of suffering until a new treatment helped curb his symptoms.

Although there is no cure for the rheumatic disease, a new therapy can help people lead as normal a life as possible, and Mark is keen to highlight his condition to help others.

At only 16, Mark began to experience the first symptoms of the disease.

Now 43, he said: "It started off with stiff hips and sore buttocks. I also experienced nerve-end pain, I was in constant pain for months."

After visiting his doctor, he was quickly referred to a specialist.

"Nobody really seemed to know what was wrong. One day the pain would be in my left hip and then it would move to my right."

As his joints continued to ache and stiffen over time, he took tests to try and diagnose the problem. He suffered with the symptoms for a further twelve years.

The main symptoms of AS are similar to arthritis. People with the disease experience gradual pain and stiffness in their back and joints lasting for months, and which can only be lessened through exercise.

They also find they lose weight, feel tired, have fevers and night sweats along with other symptoms. Mark was finally diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis.

He explained: "I had to do a blood test which confirmed I had the HLA-B27 gene."

The HLA-B27 gene is found in many AS suffers and, as there is no cure, Mark carried on with his life in discomfort.

The disease, more common in men than women, can be genetic but often skips several generations.

Recently, he was introduced to a new treatment called Infliximab, which attacks the HLA-B27 gene, relieving the sufferer from many of the symptoms.

He said: "They decided to put me on Infliximab because my condition was so bad. I was getting more and more hunched over and AS makes you ill as well."

Every eight weeks, Mark visits hospital to receive his medication and calls it his miracle.

"I was struggling to walk and stand up and I limped into the hospital to get the medicine. After I had the treatment, I was out of the hospital like an athlete, I was told it could take several weeks to work but it was amazing and worked straight away.

"It's like a miracle cure. I still get a stiff neck as the bones in my neck have fused together but, since the treatment, it's been pretty good."

And he can now enjoy sports again: "It's made me healthier, it is an amazing difference. I can do sports now, I can play football without pain."