Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis: Peyton’s Story
Peyton Schuler is an active, outgoing 7th grader who, according to his mom Lisa, is always on the move. A sports lover, Peyton especially loves playing basketball and baseball. In fact, his family at first thought a football injury in 4th grade was to blame for his sore, swollen right thumb. But when the swelling worsened, then spread to other fingers, Lisa knew something more serious was going on. “At one point, Peyton couldn’t even get his fingers around a pencil to write,” she recalls.
Answers Come at Gillette
An Internet search and conversation with Peyton’s aunt Susan — who, coincidentally, works as a nurse at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare — led the family to their pediatrician, who quickly diagnosed Peyton with polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). The condition is also referred to as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis in the U.S. He soon began seeing pediatric rheumatologist Evren Akin, M.D. and rheumatology nurse practitioner Patricia Erickson, C.N.P. “Dr. Akin and Nurse Patty are phenomenal — and so is Peyton’s entire team at Gillette,” says Lisa. “They talk to Peyton on his level, making sure he understands what is going on with his body. Since we see them on a regular basis, they have become like family to us since Peyton’s diagnosis in 2009.”
Just a month after Peyton began treatment at Gillette, his joint inflammation had already significantly improved — and that wasn’t all. Before his diagnosis, Peyton often had trouble getting up in the morning and needed support from the railing to get down the steps. But Lisa soon realized this was another symptom of JIA, as many children experience joint stiffness in the morning. “For the first time, we heard Peyton hopping and bounding down the stairs,” says Lisa. “While most parents may consider this a normal routine, we were so grateful for this simple activity.”
A Lifetime of Symptoms
Peyton has been able to drop down to just one weekly injection of medication that helps manage his arthritis by slowing its progression and preventing joint damage. (The natural course of arthritis is waxing and waning, with periods of flare-ups and remissions). By controlling inflammation, medication allows children, like Peyton, to grow and develop to their full potential. With his course of treatment, Peyton has now been inflammation-free in his joints for over a year now – a milestone that everyone is very thankful about!
Looking back, Lisa says that symptoms of Peyton’s joint pain had been present for most of his life. “He would wear out much sooner than most kids, and often would walk like an old man. Now we understand that he was trying to adjust his walk to minimize the pain he was experiencing.” The family also considered their medical history — relatives on both sides of Peyton’s family have some form of rheumatic condition. Though it’s not yet understood why some children develop JIA, genetics can play a role.
With Treatment, an Active Life
Today, Peyton is a thriving athlete. He plays on traveling basketball and baseball teams — even serving as one of the team’s starting pitchers, a small miracle when several years ago he couldn’t even reach his arm behind his head. He’s also grown much taller since beginning treatment, as his joints work to compensate for previously halted growth from the inflammation.
Lisa says Peyton’s experience has taught him to be an advocate for himself. “We don’t want him to feel like his arthritis is something to hide or hold him back from his goals. We’ve encouraged him to talk openly about the arthritis, and he does.” She says his team at Gillette has allowed him to do just that. “We’re so fortunate to have an amazing team of rheumatology specialists from Gillette at our fingertips and on Peyton’s team,” says Lisa. “Their goal is to help children like Peyton be as independent and as healthy as possible.”