Living with Juvenile Arthritis at Age 8
Prevention & Treatment When she was a 3-year-old, Meghan O’Donnell was energetic, having fun jumping around and playing with her parents. The fun stopped when she started screaming in pain.
“Her ankle was huge, the size of a grapefruit,” recalls mother Viktoria O’Donnell. She took her little girl to the doctor. X-Rays didn’t show a bone break, but doctors thought it could be a stress fracture, so they put a cast on Meghan’s right leg.
Getting an explanation
Three weeks later, the ankle was just as bad. After MRIs, blood work and exams, doctors concluded Meghan had juvenile arthritis in her right foot and her left middle finger. The O’Donnells, who live in Doylestown, PA, a Philadelphia suburb, were in disbelief.
“What on earth are you talking about?” Meghan’s mother told the doctor. “Kids don’t get arthritis.” Yet, according to the Arthritis Foundation, nearly 300,000 kids in the United States have juvenile arthritis, an inflammation of the joints.
Conservative arthritis treatment didn’t help. Meghan’s mom recalls: “She couldn’t walk, and spent most days in bed.”
“‘With juvenile arthritis, there’s always hope they’ll grow out of it.’”
After a second opinion, doctors got aggressive and gave Meghan injections in her ankle and foot joints. The injections were successful but there was another concern: Meghan’s eye inflammation, which, if untreated, could lead to glaucoma, cataracts, or blindness. Her doctor prescribed eye drops.
The treatments worked.
After a few years passed, doctors wanted to know if Meghan was cured or if she was in a medically-induced remission. “With juvenile arthritis, there’s always hope they’ll grow out of it,” O’Donnell explains, noting doctors say Meghan’s arthritis is a “stubborn case.” Doctors weaned her from the medications but, within six months, the arthritis and eye inflammation were back. All treatments resumed again.
Present and future
Today, Meghan — now eight and in the third grade — gets an IV infusion of arthritis medication every 28 days; she gets weekly injections administered by her mother and she takes eye drops twice a day. “The medicine is helping her and it makes her feel better,” admits O’Donnell.
While her arthritis is stable now, in the long-term Meghan might have flare-ups or new joints may be affected. Often the condition worsens during puberty.
Meghan, who loves swimming and reading, is the youngest of five kids. Her family has participated in multiple juvenile arthritis walks to fundraise for a cure. Her mother and father, John O’Donnell, have done advocacy work in Washington, D.C. and they’re sharing insight with families of other patients with juvenile arthritis.