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Increasing number of kids stricken by arthritis

Lucy Jackson, 8, of Mill Creek (center) is one of 300,000 children across the country fighting the pain and debilitating effects of juvenile arthritis (photo courtesy Jackson family)

When Lucy Jackson was just 2-and-a-half years old, she seemed like a perfectly normal, healthy youngster. But that all changed on Thanksgiving day in 2007 while the Mill Creek family vacationed in Florida.

“She woke up and couldn’t walk,” says her mom Katie. She was in serious pain.

Lucy had been perfectly healthy up to that point in her young life. At first, her parents thought she’d possibly been bitten by a bug or something and went to the emergency room. There, the doctor couldn’t find anything wrong, except for some indicators she might have some inflammation in her joints. He mentioned the possibility of juvenile arthritis.

“We thought he was crazy. We just had no idea. We’d never even heard of juvenile arthritis,” she says.

When they got back home, doctors at Seattle Children’s Hospital confirmed the diagnosis. Lucy had juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA).

JRA is just one of more than 100 different diseases or conditions that fall under the umbrella designation of arthritis – a complex family of musculoskeletal disorders that destroy joints, bones, muscles, cartilage and other connective tissues, hampering or halting physical movement – according to the Arthritis Foundation. The word “arthritis” literally means joint inflammation, but can involve the eyes, skin and gastrointestinal tract as well.

In Lucy’s case, it is often painful and debilitating.

“I think she pushes through things she shouldn’t, but she limps a lot, her joints are sore at the end of the day,” says Katie.

“It is very hard because it hurts,” says Lucy.

At first, she had to get joint injections several times a year and take various medications. But as she’s gotten older, the arthritis has spread through her body, affecting a number of joints. Some days the pain, and stiffness, gets so bad she has a hard time moving. Now, she has to get weekly injections and take daily medications, which often cause serious side effects.

“She gets tired, nauseous. It just knocks her out,” says Katie.

Lucy’s not alone. Children’s Hospital estimates nearly 300,000 kids in the United States have some sort of arthritis. Unfortunately, there is no cure. The goal of treatment is to relieve inflammation, control pain and improve a child’s quality of life.

“This is a tricky disease, it doesn’t have clear boundaries,” Katie says.

While it can be overwhelming, luckily Lucy’s family doesn’t have to manage her arthritis alone. The Arthritis Foundation is there to help her and the one in every four Washington residents who struggle every day with this serious health epidemic.

“Our goal is to help reduce the unacceptable pain, disability and other burdens of arthritis and related diseases. We offer information, events, research funding, advocacy activities and other vital programs and services,” says Dr. Steven Overman, a nationally renowned Seattle-based rheumatologist and Arthritis Foundation of Washington board member. “We believe the heavy toll arthritis takes is unacceptable, and that arthritis must be taken as seriously as other chronic diseases because of its devastating consequences.”

For Katie, the Arthritis Foundation has been a “blessing” for the entire family. “It’s opened up a community of people that were going through similar stuff that we were. It helped us connect and feel normal because they knew what it felt like. It felt like a family,” she says. “It is a blessing. They are such kind people. And their goal is so narrow focused. They want a cure. I love that they have this optimism and they have a plan.”

“I hope they can come up with a cure because I want to be a veterinarian,” Lucy says hopefully.

There is no cure on the immediate horizon. But with increased research, more doctors focusing on arthritis and advances in treatment, Dr. Overman says the goal is to reduce by 20 percent the number of people suffering from arthritis-related physical activity limitations. But they can’t do it alone. The Arthritis Foundation needs your help, whether it’s donating to one of their fund-raising events or volunteering.

“Not only will you make a world of difference now in the lives of people who are disabled by arthritis. You will also be paving the way for a future free of arthritis pain,” Overman says.

“I would love my daughter to grow up and not have this pain anymore. I would love for her to be able to share her story and have it be a recovery story,” says Katie.

That’s why KIRO Radio 97.3 FM, 710 ESPN Seattle, AM 770 KTTH, Les Schwab Tire Centers and Carter Subaru are proud to recognize The Arthritis Foundation of Washington as our Charity of the Month. You can learn more and how to help here.

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