Keeping Your Passion Alive With Arthritis

This avid woodworker refused to let discomfort get in the way of doing what he loves most. How he found fulfillment—and even pain relief—by taking a different approach to his hobby. 

Kristina Mastrocola
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An employee of SKF USA Inc. until his retirement in 2007 (and a Bob Vila-esque home improvement guru in his spare time), John Latella, 70, loves working with his hands, and—despite being diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in 1969—he’s been doing just that all his life. “I remodeled my home office and helped build my brother-in-law’s two-story house,” says the West Granby, CT, resident.

But when John’s three daughters were still young, his hands started becoming an issue. “I’d open them and the joints would click, and they just felt sort of loose; I couldn’t do everything I wanted for my family. I sat my girls down pretty early on and told them about psoriatic arthritis and why I wouldn’t always be able to do certain things, like crawl around on the floor playing with them.”

While his daughters understood completely, John wouldn’t accept being a sidelined dad: “I picked up a simple little tool at Bed, Bath and Beyond to help me open jars, and instead of taking on huge home- improvement projects, I started building wood scale models of trains, fire engines and Caterpillar trucks. It was a smaller way of doing what I loved, and it kept my hands moving.”

Building models may have started out as physical and even psychological therapy, but it ended up being the passion that brought him closer to his first passion: his family. “I taught all my girls how to make wood models; they probably don’t remember everything about woodworking, but the lessons to focus, slow down and appreciate things—I think that stuck.” Who needs to crawl on the floor with your kids when you can pass down a passion?

April 2013