Pushing Back at the Pain

Arthritis is not just an adult disease; juvenile rheumatoid arthritis affects 300,000 kids

Riley Gonzales looks like a picture of health. An engaging 5-year-old who loves helicopters and airplanes, Riley’s cheerful smile belies the trouble within his little body. An insidious enemy wages war with his immune system, which overreacts and damages his joints. The name of this painful, chronic and disabling disease is juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, better known as JRA.

Born with JRA, Riley’s condition went undetected until after his left knee swelled from an accidental fall when he was just 11 months old. Acting on his pediatrician’s advice, Riley’s parents, Brooke and James, rushed him from their Moses Lake home to Spokane. Further examination and MRI testing led to only one option — surgery.

Following the operation and two-week hospitalization, a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line was put in place for a possible bone infection. But this invasive procedure, in which a catheter is inserted through the veins until the tip rests in the heart, was complicated by Riley’s little arms and small veins. The first attempted insertion swelled his right arm, and the second then clotted it. It was only after the third insertion into his left arm that the procedure was successful.

During the four months of this IV therapy, Riley’s doctors ultimately diagnosed his JRA. Since then, his testing and treatment have included bone scans, long-term physical therapy, ultrasounds, X-rays, MRIs, steroid IVs, cortisone injections and oral prescription drugs. While this extensive therapy has helped to control Riley’s condition, his parents worry that their younger son, Ryder, could get JRA, too. Brooke and James are legitimately concerned because there is a medical history of RA in both of their families.

Riley and 300,000 other children with juvenile arthritis, the most common childhood disease in the United States, are a small part of a very large health problem. Fifty million Americans are afflicted with some kind of the more than 100 forms of arthritis. In addition to causing severe and chronic pain, swollen tissue, ligament and joint destruction, deformities, permanent disability and death, arthritis erodes patients’ quality of life, imposes significant limitations on their daily activities and disrupts the lives of their family members and caregivers.

Furthermore, arthritis affects all types of Americans, not just children and seniors. Two-thirds of adults with doctor-diagnosed arthritis are under the age of 65. And one-half of all adults with diabetes and heart disease have arthritis. Based upon the projection that there will be 67 million adults with doctor-diagnosed arthritis by the year 2030, the annual cost to the United States’ economy of medical treatment and lost productivity will greatly exceed the current amount of $128 billion.

So what is being done in raising awareness? Earlier this year, the governor of Washington proclaimed May as Arthritis Awareness Month. And here in the Inland Northwest, there’s the Arthritis Foundation’s annual Spokane Jingle Bell Run and Walk. Now in its 5th year, this festive event provides runners and walkers with jingle bells for their shoelaces to ring out the important message that arthritis is unacceptable.

  • In helping the foundation improve lives through leadership in the prevention, control and cure of arthritis, participants and sponsors impact the community in the following significant ways:

  • Providing arthritis public education forums, exercise programs and helpline.

  • Funding local arthritis researchers and rheumatology fellows.

  • Providing kids and teens like Riley educational and social activities at the foundation’s annual summer camp.

  • Advocating for better support of Americans with arthritis through changes in government health policy.

The foundation’s vision is to create a world free from arthritis pain. So please help us make this a reality.

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