GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — It’s a disease many people associate with getting old, but arthritis can affect anyone, at any age.
"I was diagnosed at the age of 2 in 2007. I'm 17 now,” says Jennifer Coons.
For 15 years, Jennifer Coons has been living with rheumatoid arthritis.
“I’ve been on multiple different medications, pills, injections, all of that,” she said.
Yep, kids can get arthritis, too. In fact, there are 300,000 kids in the country living with the autoimmune disease.
“Treating a child with arthritis is different than treating an adult. We have to think very much about how the child is going to grow, the impact of arthritis on the growing skeleton, the growing bones, and preserving the health of the child's joints, not just in childhood, but into adulthood — 80 to 90 years of life, hopefully,” says Dr. Bryce Binstadt.
Dr. Binstadt is a pediatric rheumatologist — one of about 300 in the country. If you're doing the math, 300 docs for 300,000 patients is not good.
“There are many rural areas including states surrounding us, the Dakotas for instance, where children have to travel large distances to find a pediatric rheumatologist,” he says.
Jennifer certainly hasn't let her diagnosis stop her. She's been a gymnast since the age of 6. She says staying active has helped keep her moving forward. Research and treatments have also been key and she's going off to college in the fall.
"I want to go into something pediatric, and I want to be able to help kids that are kind of like me and are struggling. I've been in that situation, going to the doctor quite often, getting my blood drawn every three months. I want to be that person and have those relationships that I had with those nurses,” she says.
And while it hasn't always been easy to share her story, she's doing it now. Jennifer will serve as the honoree for the upcoming Walk to Cure Juvenile Arthritis at the Mall of America, which she views as a chance to inspire some of the other kiddos in her same shoes.
“I just hope that all kids can share their story, and they don't need to be ashamed of what they are going through, and why their life is a little bit different ... and there are kids that get arthritis, and I want for that to be known,” says Jennifer.
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