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Jack McAteer's story - JIA

Jack McAteer is studying for an engineering degree

Jack McAteer has had days when he's struggled to get out of bed because of the pain in his feet caused by juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA).

But his determination and love of life, as well as support from family and friends got him through the tough times. Those characteristics and support have now also helped him land a dream apprenticeship with British Airways.

Reaching for the skies

Jack grew up with a love of all things aeronautical.

It therefore came as no surprise to those around him, that after completing an engineering diploma at his local North West Kent College in Gravesend, Jack applied for the position of aircraft maintenance apprentice with the iconic global airline giant.

Jack was one of 750 applicants, but his experience and credentials earned him an interview, along with 34 other hopefuls.

At the end of a gruelling interview around the time of his 18th birthday, Jack decided to be honest and up front and raise the issue of his arthritis.

He had written down what he wanted to say about having arthritis.

Jack said: "I said to the people interviewing me that I had something I wanted to tell them. I was very nervous and I asked them if I could read it out.

"They said that was fine and I read out what I had written about having arthritis. They thanked me for sharing it with them, but said that I would need to have a medical anyway and so I should talk to people there about it.

"I was so nervous about having a medical. I said to my Mum that I would be so upset if I had got this far and my arthritis then cost me a dream job."

Jack needn't have worried, however, and his up-front and confident approach paid off.

"The nurse thanked me and said 'that's absolutely fine' and she explained that if necessary I could be given a bit of extra time with my work. They were so kind and understanding at British Airways."

The apprenticeship is for three years and Jack will have to complete a set standard test at the end of his first year.

He will be based mainly at Heathrow and Gatwick airports in Greater London, but there will also be the opportunity to travel.

Jack said: "If there is a plane that needs fixing in another country, British Airways have to fly engineers out to that country, so I might get the chance to do that. I will likely get a specialism to focus on, for example wheels or engines, depending on what I am good at."  

Coping with pain

Jack McAteer is studying for an engineering degreeJack was first diagnosed with JIA when he was nine years old. His mother, Anne-Marie, said: “We just thought that arthritis was for older people.”

Jack went into remission when he was 11, but the arthritis began to flare up again a few months before his 17th birthday.

His arthritis is now being controlled by methotrexate and folic acid. But the condition has affected the arch of his feet and his toes, which can cause Jack considerable pain."Once it comes on, little things become big things."

Jack said: “At times it has felt like no one really understands. Before I had arthritis, I never thought about my feet and I used to do lots of walking.

“I'm dealing with pain every day and I know that I can’t do everything I want to. Once it comes on, little things become big things.

"But there are people in worse situations.”

Tell people how you're feeling

Jack has the following advice for young people with arthritis: “Research your condition, but don’t trust everything you find on the internet. Sometimes you'll find the worst-case examples. "You might need help, support or someone to chat to."

“It's important to let people around you know how painful it is. And accept that you might need help, support or someone to chat to.”

In the driving seat

Another recent milestone and success for Jack was passing his driving test.

Jack said: "Being able to drive now really helps, it has massively increased my independence.

"I love driving. When I socialise, I often offer to drive. I don't like drinking alcohol anyway because of my medication, so it's nice to be able to drive.

"I've always loved cars and when I was diagnosed with arthritis at the age of nine, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to drive."

Proud Mum

Jack's mother, Anne-Marie, has also had tough times watching her son struggle with lack of mobility and pain.

And while Jack has worked hard and deserves his achievement, Anne-Marie has been a huge part of his success.

She said: "I am so very proud of Jack and pleased that his hard work and determination has paid off.

“He has had some tough times with his condition, but he never gave up. He has shown real character through it all and has now realised a childhood dream of working with aeroplanes.

“Jack deserves this and I am so happy for him. He is a real inspiration.”

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