As told by Kids Get Arthritis Too
At age 15, Hanna has already channeled her challenges with arthritis into a purpose-filled life by helping those around her. She is a bubbly, active sophomore in high school, and a promising advocate for arthritis education.
Hanna was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) at age 5, but her mother believes she may have had the first onset as early as three years before. Hanna recalls not wanting to run or play, going to the children’s hospital for blood work and adjusting to the medication – first by mouth, and then injections.
She also remembers the feeling of isolation at school. “Back in first grade, I felt weird,” she says. “My classmates were negative because they thought that the teachers let me get away with things. I had to wear sneakers rather than the shoes that matched our school uniforms – I was different. Some kids thought that my arthritis was contagious.”
By age 8, Hanna was losing range of motion. She tried softball, track, tap and ballet lessons, softball, 4-H and horseback riding. “Horseback riding was the best – it gave me so much more freedom and it wasn’t so strenuous – I loved it,” she says.
One of her nurses urged Hanna to attend the Arthritis Foundation’s Camp JRA. “The experience was absolutely amazing for me,” says Hanna. “Camp is my second family,” she says. “One week at camp makes my whole year – it is such a neat place. I have met so many lifelong friends there.”
In 2009, Hanna contacted her local Arthritis Foundation office with some ideas to get her school more involved. She had a bake sale, raising over $1,000 for the Walk, and helped conduct seven education sessions over two days at her high school to teach her classmates about JA.
Hanna was the recipient of the Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter’s 2010 Teen Honoree award for her advocacy work on behalf of the Arthritis Foundation, and she was the keynote speaker at their volunteer recognition event.
Today, Hanna’s days are filled with family, friends and activities. The oldest of six children, she enjoys helping care for her siblings, and she’s the assistant coach of her younger sister’s softball team. At school, Hanna performs in plays, sings in the choir and is especially proud of the CARE (Care, Acceptance, Respect, Education) Program at her school, a group started to help students understand others’ challenges. She’s already thinking about college and beyond, with a clear focus toward the future: “Long term, I have a vision of being a rheumatologist, helping children battle with rheumatic and muscular diseases,” she says. “I also see myself involved in public speaking, helping motivate kids because I know what they’re going through.”
Copyright 2010, Arthritis Foundation. Adapted with permission from Kids Get Arthritis Too, 2009.