Arthritis - Not Just For Grandparents Anymore

When you hear "arthritis" typically you picture a person in their later stages of life.  You don't picture a four year old child.  Yet arthritis can and does impact young lives just as much if not more then it would impact senior citizens.

Meet Hannah.  Hannah is a beautiful little 4 year old girl that lives a not far from where my family lives in Merrimack.  She was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis at 3 years old.  Her mother recaps how they discovered this on her blog site dedicated to bringing awareness to the illness.

Sometime in September 2006, I asked Hannah to hold up her hands on our chalk board so I could trace them.  To my surprise she could not hold her left hand flat against the board.  I tried to gently push her wrist down and was faced with some serious tension.  I made a mental note and checked it a few days later with no change.  Even checking it at night, while she was in a deep sleep, we were unable to bend her wrist.  Any force on our part, caused serious pain.  We were stumped and worried.

We saw our doctor who ruled out any kind of injury or break in bones that may have fused together.  We were then referred to a pediatric orthopedist, who, upon viewing Hannah's X-Rays, informed us that Hannah's wrist bones were growing at the rate of a 6 year old (she was 3 years old at the time).  The condition that causes this?  Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis.  I had heard of Rheumatoid Arthritis in older people, but kids?  

We were then referred to a rheumatologist who confirmed her JRA diagnosis in December '06.

46 Million Americans suffer from arthritis. Nearly 300,000 children in this country alone have been diagnosed with some form of arthritis of which, the most prevalent form JRA effects around 50,000.  Despite this you hear very little of it.

Over the years both Republicans and Democrats have put up bills to try to aim more research funds and awareness at the illness but year after year, bill after bill they continue to be shot down or as in this most recent attempt, simply abandoned in committee.

A young man that I work with also suffers from arthritis.  As I began my preparation for this article I spoke briefly to him about the illness to get his take on why it is such a forgotten disease.  His theory, the attention to the disease is not there because no one dies from arthritis.  That however doesn't make it any less tragic on the families who must deal with this disease in their lives. 

I then asked my wife if she knew about JRA and she mentioned a girl who came to her school in 8th grade named Sharon.  In good years she was on crutches, but the majority of her time in Middle and High School was spent in a wheel chair.  Her knees and ankles were always swollen and her hands and wrists were flared up a lot--preventing her from using the crutches to support her. 

I can only imagine what this disease must be like for the parents.  Imagine having to give your child shots as Hannah's parents must do. Imagine not being able to do simple games like tracing your child's hand on a piece of paper because the flexibility is gone as Hannah's was in her wrist.  Imagine being a child with this illness and not living near a major city with specialists. Hannah at least has access to specialists in Boston.

This illness is real and it affects people every day.  You can help though.  On May 10th Hannah and her family are taking part in a walk to both raise awareness of this disease and to help raise money toward finding a cure. 

Click HERE and you can donate online.   Hannah's goal is to raise $1000 in donations.  At the time of my writing this she's already raised $475.  My hope is that those reading this article will help assure that not only will little Hannah and her family meet the goal of the $1000 they seek to raise, but far exceed it.