Little girl becomes unexpected face of Arthritis

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COLUMBIA - Though Arthritis is usually associated with older individuals, Samantha Hopkins is living proof that kids can get the disease too. 

On a quiet Columbia day Richard Hopkins and his daughter Samantha were hosting a garage sale. But not just get ride of old belongings like one would expect. But to raise money and awareness about Samantha's Juvenile Arthritis. 

"It kind of hurts my joints," Samantha Hopkins, a five-year-old Columbia resident said. "One time my knee was swollen." 

"We didn't know that kids could get Arthritis. Most people hear about Arthritis, and they think it's for older folks," said Samantha's father Richard Hopkins. 

According to the Arthritis Foundation, Juvenile Arthritis affects about 300,000 children in the United States. 

"JA is an umbrella term used to describe the many autoimmune and inflammatory conditions or pediatric rheumatic diseases that can develop in children under the age of 16," the website said. 

It also said there are various types that share symptoms like pain, joint swelling, redness and warmth. However, different types can have differing levels of severity. 

"Pain is not the main symptom, disability is. So they [children] actually acquire the position to help their joints function. So they are lymping, or they have awkward walk, or they are stiff in the morning," said Samantha's doctor, Dr. Anjali Patwardhan, MD, Pediatric Rheumatologist at the MU Women and Children's Hospital.

She said the most difficult part about the diesase is that most doctors and patients don't even know it exists. 

Samantha's father said, "When they wake up and they're sore, but by the end of the day, they're running around, you might not know what's going on." 

Samantha was diagnosed when she was two, and it took six months for doctors to figure out what was wrong. Samantha recalled what it was like before she had her medicine.

"In the morning you [her father] had to pick me up," she said. 

She has to take Humira via shots by her specialist in Columbia and go to an eye doctor in order to stay on top of the related eye disease. But Hopkins recalled how difficult it was to come up with Samantha's regimen.

"They try something, if it doesn't work they try something else," he said. "So there's lot of trial and error when it comes to treating for this, and hopefully we can get better at that."

Samantha said she has definitely seen a difference since she's been receiving treatments.

"It doesn't hurt as much," she said.

"Samantha lives a normal life, but it is absolutely thanks to the last thirty years of advocacy, of fundraising and research. And we want to be part of the next thirty years, and hopefully get rid of this forever," Hopkins said.

Samantha's family created Samantha's Superheroes last year when she was chosen as the local youth honoree for the Jingle Bell Run, which is a 5K in Columbia every year that raises money for the Arthritis Foundation. 

Samantha's October garage sale raised $600 for this year's Jingle Bell Run, and her family has already raised a total of $3,000 for the foundation this year. 

"We're going to continue to talk about our story, and hopefully more people will hear and want to support the cause," Hopkins said. 

The Arthritis foundation website said there is no cure for the disease. But with early diagnosis and aggressive treatment, remission is possible.