Disability Issues

Teen is advocate for juvenile arthritis

Thursday, September 24, 2009

According The Arthritis Foundation, juvenile arthritis is any form of arthritis that develops in individuals younger than 18 years of age. There are approximately 300,000 children and teens who are currently living with it.

One of them is an active and outgoing Chicago-area college student. For most of her life, 19-year-old Kristen Hartman has been dealing with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Although she is physically active, at times her arthritis leaves her fatigue and in pain.

"Since I was 5, I was so little, so I've just adapted to having arthritis, and it affects everything I do in my life today, from school to housework, to hanging out with my friends," said Kristen.

"Right now I'm going through an up and down flare, which is when your arthritis is active, and right now it has been a struggle with my right knee. No one knows what's going on. I've had surgery on it, and it just everyday, it's a new battle of arthritis, and it's just going to get worse as I get older."

Because of her own experiences living with arthritis, Kristen became a strong advocate for children and teens. In fact, she is one of the youngest and most vocal in Illinois.

"I go to Washington, DC, and Springfield to talk to legislatures about arthritis and how we need funding for research to find a cure," Kristen said.

Her mom Jean says Kristen's arthritis has affected the whole family.

"You're not as spontaneous as a family, you have to do more planning for vacation," Jean said. "We did try long driving vacations, and we had to eliminate that--she can't be in the car for a long time."

Support and resources, such as a recently published teen guide called "Juvenile Arthritis" by Kelly Rouba, is helpful for both individuals and family members.

"I would recommend that book to anyone who has recently been diagnosed or has been diagnosed for 20 years. You just learn so much," said Kristen.

"You have no idea what is all involved with arthritis, you think of it just as an inflammation in the joints, you don't think of it as all the other diseases that can come with it," said Jean.

As a sophomore at Northern Illinois University, Kristen hopes someday to do something with government and health care.

"Right now I'm going to school for like human resources," Kristen said. "So, maybe, I can somehow get into that health care aspect of it and still advocate for arthritis."

To learn more about The Arthritis Foundation, go to www.arthritis.org. To learn more about the book "Juvenile Arthritis," go to kellyrouba.blogspot.com.

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