July is Juvenile Arthritis Month! When you think of the word arthritis, who do you picture? Someone who is elderly, perhaps with gray hair and a cane? Or do you picture a child? The truth is there are 50 million people in the U.S. who have some form of arthritis, 300,000 of those people are children. And I am one of them.
I was born with a leg disability named Genu valgum, a.k.a knock-knees. Growing up, my parents thought I had the normal ‘growing pains’, my legs hurting more as they grew longer. Little did they know that was far from the case. It was not until my freshman year in high school that this presented a problem. Because my legs were so misaligned, my knee-caps were being pushed out of place, resulting in severe arthritis. It hurt so bad that I could hardly walk. At age 15, I had my first set of surgeries to correct the problem. Each leg was surgically broken and I had to wear an external fixator for 6 months—12 months no walking. Although surgery did relieve my knee-problems, it did not solve them. Just recently, I had another set of surgeries. Again, my legs were surgically broken and metal rods were inserted to help stabilize my bone.
Yup! That’s my leg…weird right?! In total, I’ve had eight surgeries — four in which my legs were broken, four repairing knee damage caused by arthritis. It has been a long process, one I will experience for the rest of my life.
This is why I’m sharing my experience with you. While my journey is unique, I know there are countless others like me who are going through similar situations. As a teenager, hearing that you need two knee replacements at the age of 17 is a lot to handle. Even now at 24, I still can’t wrap my mind around the fact that I have the knees of a 75 year old.
I want to address one misconception. While being overweight can cause arthritis, not all cases of arthritis are caused by extra weight. I’ve heard it all…I do not have arthritis because I am ‘lazy’. I have arthritis because my grandmother was born with bad knees, my mother was born with bad knees, and so was I. It’s strictly genetic.
While it can be overwhelming, and there are days that I just cry, the most important thing I want you to know is that everything will be alright. Hang in there, and literally take one step at a time. You may feel cheated in life, not being physically able to do all things you want, but life is not over. Find what works best for you. You may not be able to run, but you can walk, or swim, or whatever activity works best for your body. While having arthritis is not a pleasant experience, you can make it a good experience.
My time in hospital beds, wheelchairs, physical therapies, etc., have made me stronger, and provided me with one of the biggest learning lessons in life — compassion. There are a lot of people who are struggling with disabilities, whether it be illness or a physical impairment. I have a better understanding for individuals who are in a worst condition. I’m struggling, but there are people who are paralyzed or without legs at all. I am reminded that although I hurt, I am blessed. I am beyond grateful for the love and support of my parents. Without them, this experience would be impossible. I can’t imagine what it is like for them to see their child hurt, but I am so thankful for their open-ended support. They have sacrificed a lot to take care of me, and I can not thank them enough.
For more information on Juvenile Arthritis, and resources to help you or your child treat/cope with JA, please visit: http://www.kidsgetarthritistoo.org
Until Next Time,