PRESCOTT - Only a decade ago, it was not uncommon to see children with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis use wheelchairs and be in dire need of surgery or joint replacement.
But thanks to recent advancements in medicine, many of those afflicted with the disease are receiving the treatments they need to live healthy, productive lives.
This week at the Arthritis Foundation's Camp Cruz, a five-day sleepover camp tucked in the ponderosa pines off Senator Highway near Prescott, evidence of these breakthroughs was palpable.
The camp is designed for children ages 7 to 16 who are afflicted with either juvenile arthritis or immune system difficulties, such as lupus, and the siblings of those with one of the diseases. From Sunday through Friday, 85 girls and boys stayed at Camp Wamatochick near Groom Creek to participate.
With the guidance of 16- to 18-year-old counselors-in-training, campers took part in archery, a team challenge course, kayaking, arts and crafts, hiking and horseback riding, among other activities.
"We really want them to experience the same things that all kids get to experience," said Taryn Norley, vice president of advancement with the Arthritis Foundation's Greater Southwest Chapter in Phoenix. "It's just showing everyone that even though they have arthritis, they don't let the disease limit them."
Doctors diagnosed camper Elliott Rederick, 14, of Gilbert, with juvenile arthritis this past Christmas. Rederick, who enjoys playing football and basketball, noticed his arms were stiff and not extending fully.
"I was glad to know what I had," he said. "I still have problems, but they're a lot better than they were."
Erick Johnson, 15, from Albuquerque, N.M., has attended Camp Cruz for the past six years. Doctors diagnosed him with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis in elementary school. The disease forced him to use a wheelchair for three years, although he is now in remission.
"This camp has really boosted my self-confidence," he said. "And having the disease has changed my perception on life. If I see a person in a wheelchair, I feel more empathy for them than I think I normally would if I hadn't had this."
Dr. Kaleo Ede, a pediatric rheumatologist who works at Phoenix Children's Hospital, came to the camp for the first time. He helped campers schedule their medications and offer evaluations, if necessary. Ede was pleased that he got the chance to interact with the children, many of whom are his patients, in a relaxed atmosphere.
Phoenix Children's Hospital has labored closely with the Arthritis Foundation for the past three years - ever since the hospital started the state's inaugural pediatric rheumatology program - and it sends children to the camp.
"You'll notice here that there's no kids in any wheelchairs and kids aren't having as much surgery these days because of the way we've developed treatments for it," Ede said.
Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease that affects one in every 1,000 children, including as many as 6,000 in Arizona, the Arthritis Foundation reports.
The affliction can strike in infants as young as 12 to 18 months old. In most cases, parents will notice either some swelling or pain in their child's joints or difficulty with his or her walking.
Within the past 10 years, scientists have developed new medications that have changed the way doctors treat children with arthritis.
Doctors do not know the exact cause of the disease, but the medicines try to treat the inflammation in children's joints by targeting proteins involved in the swelling.
The Arthritis Foundation contributes money toward research into medications for adults and children, and it hopes to find a cure for juvenile arthritis.
For more information, call the foundation's Phoenix office at 1-800-477-7679 or log on to its website at www.arthritis.org.
Posted: Monday, June 15, 2009
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I have a 4 year old with JRA she was diagnoised at 14 months. She has 2 sisters and a brother. I am interested on recieving more info on your camp.
Posted: Friday, June 12, 2009
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i worked this event this summer. these children appreciate coming to camp wamatochick more than any other children that i have seen pass through camp wamatochick. i loved working with these kids and i will never forget their story.