By Chelsea Pelsone
Niagara Gazette — Over the past few years I have become a strong advocate for a life-threatening disease that most people don’t even realize affects children—arthritis. When I was 17 years old I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and it changed my life completely.
As a student in high school, I was an athlete that enjoyed playing basketball, running track, and competing in tennis matches. During my senior year after tennis season, I noticed my right foot had become extremely swollen. My hands also became very stiff, and writing in class became more tiring than I had ever noticed before. After seeing four different doctors, a diagnosis was finally reached—I had rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
I had never even heard of this disease, and did not understand the impact that it would have on my life, especially through its progression of destruction. I shrugged it off and went away to a state college, and ended up leaving a year later due to the amount of pain and discomfort I was in while away at school. During my first year of college, the disease spread from my hands and feet, to my knees, hips, elbows, neck, shoulders, even the joints in my chest were being affected. My mother mentioned to me that I could become an ambassador and advocate for the arthritis foundation, and from there my journey to help others affected began. I wanted to spread awareness that arthritis is not just an “old person’s disease,” there are over 100 different types affecting people of all ages. There are many people that will approach me and say “I didn’t know what RA was until you educated me about it.”
July is Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month; over 300,000 children in the United States have this disease, which you never outgrow. What I want parents and doctors to know is that achy joints aren’t always signs of growing pains. According to the Arthritis Foundation, joint pain, stiffness and swelling in or around a joint that doesn’t go away for at least six weeks can be early signs of a juvenile arthritis. And early medical treatment of juvenile arthritis can prevent serious, permanent damage to your child’s joints.
If you think your child may have arthritis, talk with your doctor about it or get help from the Arthritis Foundation. The foundation offers a host of programs that can help kids including an annual parent and child Juvenile Arthritis Conference, family days, and local camps. Kids with arthritis can attend JA camp free of charge. The next one in New York is August 8-13, 2013 at Double H Ranch in Lake Luzerne. For an application, please contact Nancy Simington at: (631) 427-8272 or email@example.com. For more information on juvenile arthritis and resources for families, visit the local Arthritis Foundation website: http://www.arthritis.org/new-york/juvenile-arthritis/. It could change your life!
Chelsea Pelsone lives in Youngstown and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Chelsea Pelsone lives in Youngstown and can be reached at email@example.com.