Alissa has always been very independent and insistent on making sure we know what she wants. When she has something to say, you can bet she will keep telling you until you acknowledge you have heard every word! She doesn’t like to be held back in anything—I remember often after being buckled in the car seat she would say "Help, I stuck!" Her desire for constant freedom always amazes me! She loves Minnie Mouse, Ariel, the color pink, and standing on a chair to help me cook. Often you will find her dancing with her older sister as they sing songs and pretend to be princesses, kissing an owie better, or asking for yet another meal of "food, not snacks." She has beautiful brown eyes, a smile that lights up the room, and she knows what she wants.

It was just before Halloween when I received a message from our childcare provider that Alissa’s knee looked swollen and she was limping. In the beginning, it would often appear to get better as the day went on, always worse when she would first wake. We are forever grateful Alissa was in the care of such a watchful provider, for without her more damage would have been done before catching this awful disease. While the family physician ran tests and searched for answers, I began looking online. I read dozens of articles, watched video clips, looked at pictures, and emailed mothers of children with JIA as I became convinced Alissa had it. During the 2 month wait to see a pediatric rheumatologist, Alissa began holding onto furniture to walk, wincing in pain as her shoes were put on, crying in the night and in her car seat about her feet. "Help me, help me," she would plead, not understanding why we couldn’t save her. She was diagnosed right before Christmas, with arthritis present in her knees, ankles, wrists, toes, fingers, and an elbow.

Through all her struggles, however, Alissa has been a fighter. That doesn’t mean that she willingly takes her injections, that she offers her arm for blood draws, or even that she is always cooperative as the rheumatologist checks her joints. No, she is a fighter because of her determination to live the life she was born to live. She doesn’t like to be constantly asked if it hurts, she wants to keep on running and jumping and climbing like any other kid. She is a fighter because of her resilience—her uncle takes the same injections and can’t believe Alissa is able to endure the sting, bouncing back just seconds later. Like her amazing rheumatologist said, there is virtually nothing she cannot do.

Arthritis is there now, in her little body, but I do not hate it. It is a part of Alissa, and I love every piece of her. We can help show her and other children with JIA that it isn’t such a sad, dismal life, but an opportunity to grow and overcome and triumph. There will be good days and there will be bad days, but she can do hard things. Her hopes and dreams can’t be stopped, and together we will love Alissa’s JIA into remission.

 

 

For more information, please contact Alison Tuft at atuft@arthritis.org