← Go back Childhood Arthritis: A Mother’s Perspective
Published on Thursday, March 19, 2015 by

Family_shade240Although it’s almost been three years since the diagnosis, it’s an experience I will never forget as a parent. We had just finished a fun-filled family weekend when I noticed my then-22 month old, Avery had started limping. Kids get hurt all the time, I told myself. There’s nothing to worry about.

I kept my eye on her but didn’t think too much of it until three days later, when she stopped walking altogether and was unable to put any weight on her ankle without extreme pain. Even as a nurse, the thought of Avery developing childhood arthritis was the furthest thing from my mind. In fact – like most people – I didn’t even know it was a possibility.

Although she couldn’t verbally explain to me what she was feeling, we decided to bring Avery to the hospital, and after a slew of tests and bloodwork, markers of an autoimmune disease were detected.

With autoimmune diseases, the immune system is unable to tell the difference between healthy and non-healthy cells. The result is an immune response that destroys the healthy cells by mistake. Childhood arthritis, known as juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), is a debilitating autoimmune disease that causes severe pain, stiffness and swelling in the joints in children under 16 years of age.

For Avery, the disease progressed at a rapid rate, and after 6 weeks she was diagnosed with JIA and released from the hospital with an aggressive treatment plan. As parents, we now had to accept the role of Avery’s medical caregivers and work together to alleviate the symptoms of this incurable and painful disease so that our daughter could live a happy and healthy life.

What we’ve learned since then is that JIA is one of the more common childhood diseases, with as many as 24,000 Canadian children and teens living with arthritis, or more than three out of every 1,000 kids.

So why is it that we hear so little about childhood arthritis?

Although JIA is nearly as common as, or more common than other well-known chronic childhood illnesses like childhood leukemia, diabetes, and cystic fibrosis, many people still think of arthritis as an older person’s disease. This is likely because it is often confused with osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis marked by the wearing down of joints that often occurs with aging.

According to The Arthritis Society, childhood arthritis differs from arthritis affecting adults because it can cause irregular growth problems, painful flare-ups and disease remission that can come and go without warning.

Like all types of arthritis, an early diagnosis and effective treatment plan – medication, physiotherapy, physical activity and rest – helps to control pain and prevent permanent joint damage.

As a parent, you always want your child to be happy and healthy, and you would do anything to ensure this is the case. Finding out that your child has a chronic disease is a hard pill to swallow. Yet, while there is no cure for JIA, I often remind myself that we are lucky – this is a completely manageable and treatable disease. With the help of our healthcare team and the support of family members, Avery has been symptom-free for over a year and a half.

Tips for parents of children with Childhood Arthritis:

– Record your child’s symptoms, taking special note of when it appears to worsen.
– If you suspect your child has JIA, don’t hesitate to bring it up to your physician.
– Once you receive a diagnosis, take each day at a time.
– Trust that your physicians are doing the best they can to help your child.
– Don’t treat your child any differently because of the diagnosis – continue to put him/her in sports and extracurricular activities.

March is Childhood Arthritis Awareness Month. By sharing our story, I hope to raise awareness of JIA and encourage other families to seek the help that they need if they think their child has arthritis.

Jennifer is a Registered Nurse and mother of two small, cherub-cheeked girls, 4-year-old Avery and 2-year-old Brielle. She and her family live just outside of Vancouver and love getting outdoors as much as possible with family and friends. The girls are involved in soccer, gymnastics, swimming and baseball.

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