As told by Kids Get Arthritis Too
At 14, Ryland (Ry) is a powerful spokesperson and advocate for juvenile arthritis (JA) and the 2010 winner of the Dawn Hafeli Award for Youth Leadership.
Ry began feeling joint pain at age 8 while playing sports. “I tried to play through the pain by working harder, but it became even worse, leaving me in a wheel chair by 5th grade graduation,” says Ry.
Over the next two years, Ry was diagnosed with tendinitis, over-use injuries and even Lyme disease. An orthopedic surgeon finally concluded that it was an autoimmune disease and told the family to see a pediatric rheumatologist.
In 2009, Ry experienced rapid growth spurts and severe flares. He missed the first month and a half 8th grade – keeping up through home schooling – then returned part-time for the next couple months.
Despite these challenges, Ry was a straight-A student and member of the National Junior Honor Society throughout middle school and “Citizen of the Year” for the local chapter. “For a student his age, Ry has such strong compassion and concern for others,” said Susan Lewis, chapter advisor for the National Junior Honor Society. “He is humble, gentle and genuinely concerned for others above himself.”
Ry stays active and enjoys art, playing the guitar, public speaking and volunteering for the Arthritis Foundation. He’s a leading fundraiser for the Arthritis Walk and has launched a JA support group on Facebook.
Along with sharing his story about JA at school, Ry spoke at the Maryland Arthritis Gala and at local Jingle Bell Run and Arthritis Walks as a Teen JA Ambassador. Ry also talked to Congressional leadership during the Advocacy Summit in Washington D.C. “I talk about what it’s like to have JA and to raise interest and funding to help kids with JA,” says Ry. “By getting out in front of people, I can explain the disease and help others understand what the pain is like. And, it has helped me to meet other kids with JA.”
He adds: “Now, when I have a bad flare-up, I don’t complain. Instead, I think of all the people in the world who are worse off than me, and I realize how lucky I am to have people around me who care and support me every day.”
Copyright 2010, Arthritis Foundation. Adapted with permission from Kids Get Arthritis Too, 2010.