Cary News

Life with arthritis moves forward

Shoshana Collins didn’t know kids could get arthritis before her own kid got it.

She just knew something was up when her daughter, Hava Collins, shifted at age 5 from an “incorrigible early riser” to a slowpoke in the mornings who resisted the walk to school. Hava’s parents thought something might be amiss at school, but when her knee swelled to the size of a grapefruit, everyone knew it was time to see a doctor.

Hava’s life changed with the diagnosis of arthritis. She was put on medications that made her feel better, but not without serious side effects. And her friends had a lot of questions about what she was dealing with.

Hava got pretty good at explaining arthritis, and she also discovered a knack for raising money to fund research into the disease. Those skills earned her an appointment as the youth honoree for this year’s Triangle-area Arthritis Walk, sponsored by the Arthritis Foundation.

For the May 5 walk, Hava, now 10, raised more than $3,000, mainly from friends and family and from selling doughnuts and coffee to enthusiastic neighbors, making her one of the event’s top fundraisers.

As an honoree, Hava attended local foundation meetings and events and had to give a speech – overcoming a serious case of nerves – to the crowd attending the walk.

“I talked about how I have to take this medicine that makes me sick, and I would like it better if there could be a better medicine for arthritis,” she said.

Something in common

At the walk and other foundation events, Hava, who lives in Cary, met other young people facing a disease that people tend to associate with senior citizens, though it affects 300,000 children in the United States, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

“It is very nice” to meet people her age with arthritis, Hava said. “You can talk about things that you can’t usually talk about with your other friends, and they understand and they can relate more.”

Lately, however, she’s talking about remission. She recently stopped weekly shots administered by her mother, shifting instead to oral medication.

“Right now I feel almost no pain,” she said.

That wasn’t always the case. Even when her symptoms were brought under control through medication, her arthritis, which mainly affected her knees and her jaw, sometimes got in the way.

“I could pretty much do everything all the other kids could do,” Hava said, “except for sometimes I would be running and I would have to sit down because I would suddenly feel pain.”

Her first Arthritis Walk was last year, shortly after a compromised immune system from one of her medications required her to leave school to learn at home instead.

“She was very upset about the whole thing,” Shoshana Collins said. “The rheumatologist suggested that she do the Arthritis Walk to kind of take her mind off things and maybe make her feel a little bit empowered.”

In just a few weeks, Hava raised more than $4,000, her mom said.

“People were so amazingly supportive, and it really buoyed her spirits and made her feel like she was accomplishing something for others,” Collins said.

In that first walk, Hava could only manage about a mile of the three-mile route before her knee pain flared up.

“I had to push her the rest of the way in the stroller,” her mom said.

This year, Hava walked the entire three miles by herself, and she’s got plenty of energy left to look to the future, when she hopes to become a pediatric rheumatologist.

“I feel it’d be cool to have patients that you can talk to and make them feel better by saying, ‘Yeah, I had this disease when I was a kid, and I got better, so I think there’s a good hope for you,’ ” she said.

Know a young person who makes you proud? Email or call 919-829-4828.