At Sunset Park in Tarboro, 3-year-old Kaylee Westbrook does not seem any different from other children. But, without medication, Kaylee would barely be able to walk.
"It's like an old person's disease in a little kid's body," said Karen Dew, Kaylee's mom.
Kaylee has Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA). It affects her ankles and knees.
"When she was learning to crawl and walk, she would walk on all fours, kind of like a dog or a cat would, instead of on her knees," she said. Those first symptoms did not cause real concern, but a painful, swollen knee last November did.
The symptoms of JRA may include limping, a sore joint, sudden joint swelling that lasts more than a few days, joints that cannot fully extend or a rash may suddenly appear, then disappear.
One form of JRA includes high fever. The diagnosis is not a sentence to a wheelchair.
"In fact, arthritis today is very treatable. Early diagnosis and treatment is beneficial," said Duke Pediatric Rheumatologist Dr. Laura Schanberg.
Schanberg said there are more medication options available today than ever before.
"Now, we are actually looking not just to control arthritis, but really to put children into complete remission. So we are beginning to think about the possibility of a cure," he said.
Many children grow out of the disease. Some may have it for life. Early diagnosis is vital to prevent joint damage that will be a lifelong problem.
In addition to anti-inflammatory medications, Kaylee just finished three rounds of steroid injections in the knees and ankles, so she can live the kind of life every 3-year-old should.
"The outcome for her right now, you know, looks pretty good," Dew said.
Physical therapy is also an important part of treatment for children with JRA. Regular exercise helps keep bones and joints healthy.
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