Upon first meeting our three-year-old daughter Elaina, it would never occur to you she has juvenile arthritis. All you see is an active, imaginative, and determined three-year-old little girl that will not let anything stand in the way of keeping up with her six-year-old brother, Zach. Anything he does she wants to do too. She refuses to be left out of anything, stomping her foot and saying “me too! ME TOO!”
Our juvenile arthritis journey starts at Elaina’s two-year well-child visit in November of 2012 with a swollen right index finger. We thought it could be from her sucking on her fingers because we took her pacifier away. Then, a few months later, her right knee became so inflamed and swollen she limped and no longer wanted to walk. We continued to look for answers with Elaina’s pediatrician, running blood tests, physical exams, and x-rays to discover the root cause of the inflammation and pain she was experiencing. It pained my husband Dave and I to see our active little girl preferring to sit things out and watch because she was in pain.
In June 2013, we were connected with Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare to see a pediatric rheumatologist. Prior to our appointment, Dr. Richard Vehe and his team reviewed and evaluated Elaina’s case. As a parent, I was so appreciative this was conducted “off-line” without my having to bring Elaina into the office just to see if she needed to see a rheumatologist. It’s not always a pleasant adventure bringing a two-year-old to see the doctor.
Elaina’s first appointment at Gillette blew me away. As we all sat on the floor of the evaluation room, enjoying a tea party with Elaina and her doll, Dr. Vehe and Nurse Patty explained her diagnosis of persistent oligoarthritis and what this meant for our little girl going forward. It was a lot to take in. They answered all of our questions – and we had many after our online searches about juvenile arthritis. Just so you know, Dr. Google was wrong – kids do not grow out of juvenile arthritis. Dang it!
They explained juvenile arthritis is an autoimmune disease. Our daughter’s own immune system, the thing that is supposed to keep her healthy and safe from disease, is actually malfunctioning and mistaking her joints as the enemy and attacking them; leading to swollen, painful joints and Elaina saying with outstretched arms, “Mommy knee owie, carry me! UP!”
They walked us through the various treatment options to reduce the swelling in Elaina’s joints. Believe it or not, the treatment for juvenile arthritis can involve some pretty hard core medications. Some are the same ones used for chemotherapy (but in lower doses). Another common treatment is steroid injections directly into the affected joint(s). Together we worked out a treatment plan of approach for Elaina, and Dr. Vehe and his team connected us with valuable resources and support in the community so we knew we were not alone.
We are now eight months into our journey with Gillette; Elaina is relatively pain free and we are hopefully on the road to remission. It is very apparent to me that Dr. Vehe and his team truly care and get to know their patients and families. Our family walked in the Juvenile Arthritis March (JAM) on March 1, 2014 and we saw Nurse Patty – she knew who we were, and there were no charts or reminders to queue her. You need to remember that Dr. Vehe, Nurse Patty, and their team see kids from all over Minnesota as there are only pediatric rheumatologists in Minneapolis/St. Paul and Rochester.
For Nurse Patty to remember Elaina, my husband, and I and her excitement to meet Zach, outside of the clinic setting, warms my heart and tells me we are truly part of the Gillette family.