As told by Arthritis Today
Ask Caitlin to name her favorite subject in school and she doesn’t hesitate – it’s dance.
“Right now we are doing hip hop. We’ve done world dance and ballet,” Caitlin says. “It’s amazing because I’ve never been able to really dance like there’s nothing wrong.”
Caitlin may be forgiven if dancing shoes hold more appeal than schoolbooks this year. Because while her classmates spent their summer vacations going to the swimming pool and the beach, Caitlin, age 11, was undergoing hip replacement surgery due to her juvenile arthritis.
From the age of 3, Caitlin tried medication after medication, but still endured hospital stays and arthritis flares that caused her to miss school. She enjoyed an unexplained remission for a few months in 2008, then relapsed. Her pain was increasingly debilitating and between March 2008 and March 2009, measurements and X-rays taken by doctors showed her left leg shortened about an inch as her hip crumbled.
The pain got so bad, Caitlin, a middle schooler, began taking strong pain medicines daily, just to get through her classes. She had terrible anxiety, couldn’t sleep and was having problems in school. She was seeing a pain management team, having acupuncture, getting herbal remedies and massage – all to no avail.
Caitlin’s parents and doctors tried to put surgery off as long as possible, but it soon became clear they had run out of options. So Caitlin had her left hip replaced on August 11, 2009.
“It’s night and day. I have a different daughter now,” her mom says. “So much of the darkness we had last year, it was all pain,” she says. “Every part of our lives got better.”
More challenges likely lie ahead, however. Caitlin’s other hip, the right one, has started to hurt and her mom says that during summer 2010 she’ll likely need that hip replaced, too.
For now, Caitlin is trying to enjoy just being a kid. That means indulging her love of shopping, the Jonas Brothers, the Twilight series and returning to the softball field.
“Before I had my hip replaced, they pulled me out of a lot of games and I had to have someone run for me,” she explains. “But I did a lot better after I got my hip replaced, and I was able to get back into it and not have a pinch runner,” she says. “So I’m starting again for the first time, and it feels really good.”
Looking ahead, she has dreams of being a fashion designer and holds out hope that one day, someone will find a cure for JRA.
“I’d tell other kids that have [JRA] to always keep your head up,” Caitlin says. “Someday they’re going to find a cure. So until then, keep your life going the way you want it to and you can find a way around obstacles in your life.”
Copyright 2010, Arthritis Foundation. Adapted with permission from Arthritis Today, 2009.