When you think of arthritis, a teenager doesn’t usually come to mind. Just ask Claire Bradbury, she was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis at the age of 12.
“The hardest part about having arthritis is it’s really frustrating. It doesn’t go away, it doesn’t get better,” said Bradbury.
Bradbury is now 19 years old. Things are going well today, but not all days are good ones.
“When I wake up there’s a lot of morning stiffness because I haven’t been moving, so the fluid has settled in my joints,” Bradbury said describing a bad day.
Juvenile arthritis affects children and is an autoimmune, inflammatory joint disease.
“There are roughly 1 in 5 people in Alaska who suffer from arthritis. So we need to raise that awareness,” said Anna Campione, Director of the Arthritis Foundation here in Alaska.
Campione’s community involvement assists doctors who treat patients, most unaware that juvenile arthritis is a reality.
“They have really good activity levels and they can do almost anything but during one of their flairs they are pretty sick and it’s hard for them to move,” said Pediatrician Dr. Matt Hirschfeld, Medical Director of the Pediatric Department at Alaska Native Medical Center.
Dr. Hirschfeld estimates that about 50 kids in the last frontier suffer from Juvenile Arthritis.
“It’s pretty rare, it’s more common in the Alaska Native population so we see more per capita that are Alaska Native kids that have it then non-native kids in the state,” Dr. Hirschfeld said.
Dr. Hirschfeld said it can take time for a child to be diagnosed when a child reports pain, stiffness or swelling of their joints. He says that Juvenile Arthritis is usually misdiagnosed for about 6 months before it’s known that it’s some sort of arthritis. An injury or overworked muscles are typically the first diagnosis.
Bradbury now takes daily oral medication and often receives injections to control her most severe pain, but there are still daily struggles.
“You need more sleep when you have arthritis, that was the biggest thing I figured out and some days are better than others. It’s really hard to be young and try and explain that to people,” said Bradbury.
Here in Alaska, there are places for people to go who struggle with arthritis or have questions; Campione and the Alaska Arthritis Foundation have an open door policy.
The foundation is located at 615 East 82nd Avenue in Anchorage, AK. Its website is also a great way to get information, says Campion.
May is Arthritis Awareness month and Campione, Bradbury and Dr. Hirschfeld have one common goal: to find a cure.
Bradbury is now a sophomore studying chemistry at UAA. She hopes to make a difference for others.