12-year-old volleyball whiz spikes arthritis
The last thing 12-year-old Anna Saldana wants is to be singled out or treated differently from anyone else. But she willingly shares her story about battling a rare form of juvenile arthritis so she can help others.
“It was really scary at first,” she says.
A competitive athlete, the seventh grader plays volleyball and basketball and runs track. When she began experiencing sore, swollen joints in her fingers a few years ago, she and her parents weren’t sure what was going on.
“First it was her hands,” says Anna’s mother, Jenny Saldana. “We went to see a hand specialist and we were keeping an eye on things. Then we noticed more of her fingers and her toes and her jaw were getting swollen and stiff. We tried icing and splinting, but her pain was getting worse.”
At its worst, says Anna, “It hurt my fingers so much it was difficult to move them or to squeeze anything, like a shampoo bottle.”
The family consulted Sheryl Boon, MD, a pediatric rheumatologist at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma. Dr. Boon diagnosed Anna with polyarticular juvenile arthritis, RH negative. Juvenile arthritis affects 300,000 children annually in the United States, according to the Arthritis Foundation, but only 25 percent of youth have this form of arthritis, which affects multiple joints in the body and is similar to adult rheumatoid arthritis.
Although it was hard to hear the diagnosis, Anna was relieved to find out what was going on.
“I was like, thank God I finally know what it is,” she says. “But part of me was wondering what’s next?"
What was next was a course of powerful medications with some nasty side effects.
“Anna powered through,” says Jenny. “She’s really tough. She didn’t want to miss a day of school.”
Then Dr. Boon prescribed regular Enbrel® injections, which Anna insisted on learning to do herself. Enbrel® is used to treat five chronic diseases, including moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis.
“She explained everything to me, broke it all down,” says Anna. “I was determined to give myself the injections. I don’t want to be a baby about it.”
“Dr. Boon is treating this very aggressively because Anna is still a child,” says Jenny. “She is wonderful, brilliant. She explains everything in a way we can understand.”
Over time, the injection frequency will decrease and the need for this medicine may go away altogether. Anna is feeling better and Jenny is confident she will have remission soon, either “medicated remission,” or full remission without medication.
What would Jenny tell other parents going through this?
“There is a community of people out there on Facebook, other parents. You can learn from them, get support. Ask questions. The people at Mary Bridge have been amazing. They have given us so much information.”
As for Anna, she offers this advice for other children with juvenile arthritis: “Keep going. It gets better, I promise.”
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Jean is our former vice president of marketing, She has written hundreds of articles and book reviews for newspapers in Washington, Michigan and Oregon.More stories by this author