Arthritis Not Just an Elderly Problem

Tarri West is only 18, but hers is a story of two lives. In the first, she was a young athlete, winning medals and trophies for basketball, hockey, and softball. It all changed when she was thirteen.

"We went to the mall, and my left knee became swollen," Tarri remembers.

At first, it was brushed off as a strain. But within months, it got worse.
It went from her left knee to her elbow to her right knee to her hands to her shoulder to her back. Tarri was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

"It got to the point where I was in so much pain, and my joints were so swollen, I couldn't walk. I couldn't feed myself," Tarri said. "I was bedridden."

Cotton-O'Neil Rheumatologist Dr. Doug Gardner says early diagnosis can help kids avoid the severe problems like Tarri had. But it can be tough to catch.

"Most adults have pain, but children may have swelling in the joints," Dr. Gardner said. "Parents might notice them not moving around right, maybe limping, but not really pain right off the bat."

Treatment involves more than just medicine. Physical therapy is important. Tarri lifts weights twice a week to keep her range of motion and she's dealt with those who don't understand her condition.

"A lot of people were like, kids don't get arthritis; you're too young to have that," she said.

But she keeps positive. Injections once a week keep her condition in check, and she volunteers with the Arthritis Foundation.

Dr. Gardner said research has already come a long way to help kids like Tarri.

"We have drugs now that can put 30- to 40-percent of kids in complete remission," he said.

Tarri hopes the efforts may one day bring her back her former life.

"Hopefully someday they will find a cure and I'll be able to do the things I love again," she said.

You can join Tarri's search for a cure with the Topeka Arthritis Walk. It's 9 a.m., May 1, at Gage Park's zoo shelter house. Call 272-8461 for more information.


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