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September 26, 2016
Juvenile arthritis affects one in every 1,000 Canadian children and teenagers. Juvenile arthritis is an umbrella term used to describe the many autoimmune and inflammatory conditions that can develop in children ages 16 and younger. Arthritis typically affects joints – the word arthritis literally means joint inflammation, but JIA can involve the eyes, skin and gastrointestinal tract as well. The most common type is juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). To receive a diagnosis, a child should be younger than 16 and have initial swelling in one or more joints for at least six weeks.
Danica’s journey with JIA began when she was only 18 months old. Her illness began on a Sunday and by the following Saturday, she woke up with a limp which over time became worse.
“At first, we thought perhaps her leg got caught in her crib,” says mom Stacey. “We took her to our family doctor on three different occasions, but it was difficult to get a definitive answer because her walking tended to improve as the day went on, she was never seen at her worst. To get the answers we were hoping for, we were referred to see a rheumatologist at London Health Sciences Centre.”
The family met with Dr. Roberta Berard, paediatric rheumatologist at Children’s Hospital, LHSC. By this point, little Danica couldn't walk at all prior to noon and even as the day went on she needed to be carried around a lot, and her left knee had also became very swollen and sore. It was confirmed during their appointment that she had JIA.
Stacey notes, “Although it was painful to hear, we were thankful that we finally knew with certainty what was wrong and could change our focus to trying to get her better.”
Danica was placed on a treatment plan to help her manage the inflammation in her knees and ankles. This included joint injections with a steroid, weekly immune system suppressant medication, and regular physiotherapy and clinic appointments. Her health began to improve drastically and she began to lead the life of a regular, active, toddler.
Danica’s experience with juvenile arthritis has been filled with highs and lows, including a nearly year-long period of remission. At times her symptoms have been negligible and manageable, while at others, new more dangerous symptoms emerged, including uveitis, an inflammatory eye condition that if untreated can lead to vision problems and blindness. To help manage her condition today, Danica receives a weekly injection and drops for her eyes when she experiences a flare up, and overall the treatments have controlled her pain and swelling.
“Her journey hasn't been an easy one, and it’s far from over as she could live and deal with this for the rest of her life,” says Stacey. “And while it has come with a lot of ups and downs, we continue to remain positive for her. We are so thankful for Dr. Berard, nurse case manager Michelle Diebold and the paediatric rheumatology team. They have always been there to support us through our questions, struggles and successes. We hope one day she will overcome arthritis, but until then, we know she is getting the best care we could hope for at London Health Sciences Centre. ”
Dr. Berard currently sees approximately 200 kids with JIA, ranging in age from 12 months to 18 years in the paediatric rheumatology clinic. LHSC’s program is an active partner with The Arthritis Society, the Canadian and Ontario Rheumatology Associations, and Arthritis Health Practitioners Association, and aims to provide our patients with the most current and relevant treatment options available. You can learn more about JIA at arthritis.ca or aboutkidshealth.ca.
Dr. Berard and Danica, who has lived with juvenile arthritis since she was 18 months old, smile brightly together at a Children’s gala.