Preston-based life coach says crippling arthritis left him unable to walk at age 29
He was a 29-year-old dad with huge ambitions when severe joint pain left him immobile.
Preston-based life coach Lee Chambers was running his own gaming business, regularly playing five-a-side football, and preparing to welcome his unborn baby into the world.
But his life came to a halt when he developed crippling stiffness in his knees.
The now 34-year-old, who lives in Clayton-le-Dale, said: "I went from being fully fit to immobile in just one week. My immune system had attacked the connective tissue in both knees, right shoulder and left wrist - and locked them in place."
Lee had been enjoying a new chapter in his life, having bounced back from redundancy. The former Bolton man had set up a video game company - despite being knocked back by a business adviser - after losing his graduate finance job during the economic crisis.
"It made me think, if I'm going to develop myself and be in control of my financial future, I should make my own pathway," he said.
"I saw a business adviser, who told me, 'You're black and the gaming industry is controlled by 50-odd-year-old men who won't trust you and let you in'.
"So he advised me to go into coding or developing because that field tends to be more diverse, younger and accepting. But the knock-back gave me the fire to prove him wrong."
His life continued to look up when he became a sports coach and joined a firm that supports unemployed people through the job-hunting process. He was also enjoying family life with his pregnant wife and 18-month-old son.
But just as he'd found stability, he was struck down by knee pain.
"Being 29, I thought it would go away but I couldn't even get upstairs so my mum dragged me to A&E," he said.
Lee remained in hospital for a month where he underwent numerous tests. Struggling to make a diagnosis, doctors instead categorised his condition under a group of diseases called autoimmune arthritis. These diseases cause the immune system to mistakenly attack healthy cells, which can result in joint pain, fatigue, inflammation, stiffness, restricted movement and muscle weakness.
Laid in a hospital bed contemplating life in a wheelchair, Lee promised himself he'd find a way to walk again.
"I realised how ungrateful I'd been in the past so I became resilient and set myself a goal. I vowed to one day play outside with my children again," he said.
The dad-of-two pushed himself through six months of gruelling physio and hydrotherapy, as well as low points where he nearly lost hope.
"I found it really difficult mentally. Before then, I'd play five-a-side football with the lads and could run round the block whenever I wanted to. But I couldn't walk or even shower myself when I came out of hospital," he said.
"I went from being very independent to completely reliant on friends and family. As a young male, it was difficult to get my head round. There were some periods where I grieved the loss of my mobility. I really struggled, and I felt isolated because I was out of employed work," said Lee.
Determined to rebuild his life, he ran his video game business from a garage, adding: "My wife was on maternity leave and gave me some company, and my children were also there. That kept me together."
And slowly, his condition improved.
He said: "I was back on my feet but my walking wasn't right. I had a lower spine problem and ended up back in physio. It was very painful and I struggled to do everyday tasks like housework and shopping. I couldn't even pick something up off the floor, so it limited what I could do with my children."
But, he added: "I found ways to adapt, rather than feeling sorry for myself. I had a blue badge and I was determined to use a normal parking space and walk again. I couldn't let my illness stop me. I knew I had another path. It was my dream to walk again and I put everything into it.
"It took a year to be able to walk a mile but I did it. That was a really big point for me."
He now controls his disease, which still causes him pain and fatigue, through nutrition, sleep and exercise; and his consultant has agreed he can come off all medication this summer.
"It's the suffering that's helped me grow as a person," said Lee.
"I take ownership and accountability of my condition. It's up to me to live as good a life as I can and I do it by reflecting then taking action. I'm now more patient, understanding and empathetic."
This desire to help empower people has led him to coach disability football in Blackburn and support charities Action Arthritis and the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society. And with the condition affecting more than 10 million British people of all ages, including children, Lee is keen to help raise awareness. He is also involved in immune disease research at Liverpool University, as current data tends to focus on older, white European women.
It's this passion for learning and growth that led him to life coaching at the end of last year. Having founded Essentialise Functional Life Coaching in Ribbleton Lane, Preston, he helps small business owners and groups of employees look after their well-being in order to boost their performance.
"The underlying theme throughout my whole life has been to help people reach their potential and fulfill their dreams. I wake up in the morning knowing I have a job that makes a difference. That is really fulfilling," he said.
Lee, who can now walk for a few miles at a time, is so determined to thrive and set a powerful example that he even plans to run a marathon in 2024.
He said: "It's a small world so there's always going to be someone similar to yourself. I'd always encourage people to seek out charity assistance so they can talk to those who understand their experience, especially the mental side.
"I want to show young people who develop chronic conditions that it's not the end - it's just the beginning."