Beautiful Soul: A Tribute to Brad Carlson

Patient Expert

He was a prince among men who loved large and showed his love in actions.

Our friend and fellow Health Guide Brad Carlson passed away in his sleep Tuesday, after a long battle with severe complications from RA. He was 50 years old.

As I write this, there are a lot of people who are missing Brad, but none more so than his family. Brad's beloved wife Laurie, his mom, stepdad, and sister, and Laurie's parents. And then there are his fur babies, Myah and Bella, two wonderful dogs who were always by his side, whether he was out and about or stuck in bed, nursing a flare.

Brad and I first met here on HealthCentral almost six years ago. He'd just been diagnosed with RA and came here for information and support. He very quickly became an important part of the community, giving back with answering questions and helping others cope. We knew we'd found a treasure and asked Brad to write for us. Our community will miss his wise and funny perspective on living with RA.

And I will miss a good friend. I was proud to be one of his "sisters from other misters."

He and I hit it off, becoming fast friends. I think it started because we had the same sense of humor, although his was even drier than mine, to the point of almost being dusty. He had me laughing every time we spoke. We had an ongoing joke about my quest for world domination and him being my chief minion. Both of us had a dream of making the world a better place, especially for people with RA. We were sure that together, we could do it.

Brad made a difference. His RA came on so hard and fast that he had to go on disability quite early. He then put so much of his energy into advocacy, raising money for his local chapter of the Arthritis Foundation and was selected as the Adult Honoree in the 2012 Jungle Bell Run. He also went to Washington DC to talk to lawmakers about changes that would help people with RA. Although he was very sick in the past year, he still went on the annual advocacy trip to DC last fall.

His support and sense of humor supported so many people in the community, whether they were having a bad day or just having a chat with him. There are an awful lot of people who have a giant hole in their heart this week and who will miss Brad like a brother. Knowing him has made us better people and a better community.

His garage was his man cave. Several years ago, I saw a video he had made of all of the details he'd put into making it special. The model railroad, painting scenery on the walls, making trains for it, and adding Snoopy in a biplane as the Red Baron.

The garage was also his workshop where he carved wooden toys for the neighborhood kids. Mr. Brad, as he was known, was a magician, creating planes and cars and dinosaurs, anything a child's heart could desire. He also used his woodworking skills for the RA community, creating Spoons to Beat RA. He carved wooden spoons and sent them to friends all over the world. I am lucky to have one of them and it has pride of place in my home.

Brad's attitude and dedication made him a natural choice for the Live Bold multimedia story update and we feel honored to have told his story. Last November, film crews came to my place in Toronto and his place in South Carolina, filming both our stories, as well as the two of us chatting on Skype. The minute we connected, he immediately cracked a joke and I started laughing. So did the crews, so we had to do another take (or three). Go watch our story. It will tell you so much about who Brad was.

I haven't been able to travel because of my RA for a long time, but we talked about my partner and me visiting him and Laurie in South Carolina so we could go to all the beautiful places he'd told me about. Whether it was hunting for shark teeth, seeing the live oaks, or just sitting on the beach with the dogs, the plan of someday meeting up in real life was always in the background. But really, it wasn't necessary. Every time we talked, every time we emailed, every time we exchanged jokes on Facebook, we did so in a special place called friendship.

A month ago, Brad was released from the hospital with home hospice care. He had every intention of living for years, though, saying on Facebook that "I've had lung issues for many years; I'll be okay." And I believed him. He was so vital and had such a big, bright heart that somehow, I really thought he would be able to stick around.

And in so many ways, he will. His wonderful spirit and the memory of everything he did and everything he was will continue to be part of all of us. Of this community. Let us honor him by continuing to take care of each other with love, compassion, and a healthy dose of humor.

I know that somewhere, he is building another elaborate man cave, combing a beautiful beach for shark teeth while the sun sets, a pack of dogs adoringly surrounding him. And he is not in pain. And he is smiling.

Safe journey, my friend. Someday, we will meet again.