Ten-year-old girl strives to find cure for arthritis

2 years 9 months 3 weeks ago Saturday, August 01 2015 Aug 1, 2015 Saturday, August 01, 2015 6:55:00 PM CDT August 01, 2015 in News
By: Zivile Raskauskaite, KOMU 8 Reporter

TIPTON - While many kids are creating plans for summer holidays, 10-year-old Tipton girl is also thinking how to raise awareness about Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA).

"I just want to other kids that are younger than me not to have to suffer with arthritis," said Graci Diggs.

Graci was diagnosed with JRA at the age of 4.

"She started out with a swollen knee and from the day she woke up with the swollen knee by the end of that week she could not walk," said Graci's mother Anna Diggs.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, around 50 million Americans have arthritis, including 300,000 children.

Dr. Anjali Patwardhan, a pediatric rheumatologist at University of Missouri Children's Hospital, said nearly 1 in every 250 kids are living with a form of arthritis. Juvenile idiopathic arthritis is one of the most common childhood diseases. In Missouri there are around 4,000 juvenile arthritis cases.

"My youngest patient is 15-months-old, so it can occur to any child," said Dr. Patwardhan who now sees around 80 young patients with JRA from the Columbia area.

Dr. Patwardhan said there are several types of arthritis. Some types of arthritis can be life threatening, such as systemic arthritis. It affects many parts of the body, rather than just the joints. Other types of arthritis are not systemic but they can cause joints damages and can have long term implications in kids' performance and quality of life.

Dr. Patwardhan said it is still difficult to detect JRA. The symptoms may include limping, an inability to put weight on a joint or joint stiffness in the morning that seems to get better as the day progresses.

Dr. Patwardhan said that often limping is confused with a growing pain and most of the times it is one of the reasons why the diagnose of JRA is neglected for a longtime.

"If your child has more of the symptoms in the early morning and the child walks as a grandma, is a little stiff in the morning, that is an early indication that you need to see a doctor," said Dr. Patwardhan.

Anna Diggs said the JRA diagnose to her daughter changed family's life.

"When you have a child with disease you sometimes have to put her first because your lives revolves around her needs, long car rides, you have to adjust everybody schedules for doctor appointments and everything," said Anna,"It is a struggle and it is stressful but we do it at any time of the day and we try to do it with a smile."

To reduce the stress and to meet more families who fight against arthritis the Diggs family decided to join the Arthritis Foundation and participate in the fund raising for the cure of JRA while collecting money for Jingle Bell Run/Walk.

The Diggs family created a Facebook page called "Go, go, go, Graci!" to promote their fund raising effort called "Cans for a Cure".  The fund raising event asks people to drive by their home and throw empty cans onto their front lawn.  The aluminum can drive is open all y ear.

"Grace keeps us going," said Anna,"She is very outgoing, she loves people, she is very interested in a lot of things."

Graci has been involved in the fund raising efforts.  Last year she raised $6,200 for the 2014 Jingle Bell Run which was organized by the Arthritis Foundation. Graci sold  special t-shirts, gathered empty cans, and organized volleyball tournaments.

This year in February the Arthritis Foundation contacted family announcing Graci as a 2015 National Youth Honoree for the Jingle Bell Run.

Graci will be busy this summer.  She plans to travel to St. Louis to plan for the Jingle Bell Run and she will travel to Orlando to take part in the National JRA conference.

"I have arthritis, but arthritis does not have me,"said Graci.

For more information about JRA visit University of Missouri Children's Hospital's and at the Arthritis foundation websites.

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