Why my hand hurts after my wrist was broken in an attack by a pitt bull dog caused by the Tempe Police falsely arresting me
The young face of arthritis
Better medicine, treatment helping to combat crippling disease
Nick de la Torre/The Arizona Republic
Nate Tucker, 13, of Gilbert, does a comedy routine for his friends before taking a tour of the Phoenix Zoo. Nate and other children who have arthritis visited the zoo recently with their siblings while their parents attended a sminar about juvenile arthri
Jan. 6, 2003
BY JANIE MAGRUDER email@example.com
It makes sense that Nate Tucker wants to be an anesthesiologist: The 13-year-old Gilbert boy is no stranger to pain.
"Most of the time I'm sore, mostly in my neck and back," says the blue-eyed Nate, who spends most of his days in a wheelchair. "I can't walk that well. I can't do all the things other people do."
Nate is among an estimated 4,000 children in Arizona with juvenile arthritis, a crippling disease, often mistaken as "growing pains," that inflames the joints, causing swelling, redness, pain, loss of motion and deformity. It can alter a child's growth and harm the eyes, lymph nodes and lining of the heart.
Nearly 300,000 children in the United States suffer from the illness, which affects more kids than muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia combined, according to the Arthritis Foundation. The foundation and other organizations spent more than $7.5 million on juvenile arthritis research in 2001, but so far neither a cause nor a cure has been found.
More bad news: Arthritis among adults is becoming an epidemic. One in three American adults - 70 million people - suffers from arthritis or other joint disease, according to a survey by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published in October, the findings eclipse previous estimates that 43 million adults had arthritis.
"These numbers show us that now, more than ever, arthritis is a fact of life," said Dr. John H. Klippel, medical director of the Arthritis Foundation.
Still, said Carol Chamberlain, president of the foundation's Greater Southwest Chapter in Phoenix, strides in diagnosing and treating arthritis in children have been made. Scientists have identified genes that appear to be associated with juvenile arthritis, clinical trials have documented the safety and effectiveness of new low-dose medications, and hip replacement parts have been developed to replace the smaller joints of children with severe cases of the disease.
"We should not see kids in wheelchairs anymore because of the drugs that have been discovered just in the last five years," Chamberlain said. "Ten years ago, if I'd had a child diagnosed with arthritis I'd have been devastated, not that I wouldn't be concerned now. But there's greater hope now than there was then."
Nate was diagnosed seven years ago with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, the most common among 15 types, but, for the most part, drug therapy hasn't worked for him. At age 6, while living in Salt Lake City, he began complaining, seemingly overnight, of a sore hip.
"He may have been feeling it before, but he wasn't showing it at all," said Matt Tucker, Nate's dad. "He never complained, never slowed down, he ran around and played sports."
A blood test didn't show arthritis, and the boy was diagnosed with perthes, a rare hip disorder that many kids outgrow after treatment with ibuprofen and rest. A month later, Nate was walking with a "full-on limp."
"I remember saying, 'Nate, isn't it your other hip?' because he was limping on the other leg, and he goes, 'I don't know,' " the 38-year-old father said. "The next day, he couldn't get out of bed. We didn't know what it was. Every bone in his body was stiff and sore."
The arthritis diagnosis was made in the hospital, but the Tuckers were optimistic Nate would recover. He was put on prednisone and other drugs, and although some of his lost mobility returned at first, eventually his health plummeted. At age 10, Nate broke his back while bending over to pull on a shoe, and by age 11, he was depressed, lost his appetite and dropped to 38 pounds.
Against doctors' advice, his parents packed up Nate and their three other boys two years ago and moved to the Valley for new surroundings and a warmer climate.
Although environment and genetics may play a role in juvenile arthritis, researchers think it's mainly caused by some kind of autoimmune problem, said Dr. Eric Peters, a Valley rheumatologist. It can be detected with an external examination, and when diagnosed early, treatment usually is successful, Peters said.
"If your child has a sore leg, it could be trauma or growing pains, but what you have to watch for is does it limit them playing with other kids and keeping up with their friends?" Peters said.
Juvenile arthritis strikes kids younger than 16 and sometimes much younger.
Alyssa Johnson of Phoenix was diagnosed in 1988 at age 16 months. Her mother, Sherri, noticed her baby had a swollen ankle and would cry whenever socks and shoes were put on her feet. Ten days later, after several visits to doctors, blood tests and X-rays, her arthritis diagnosis was made.
Today, 15-year-old Alyssa has some eye damage from the arthritis, but otherwise leads a normal life, she said, and is mostly pain-free. The sophomore at Phoenix Christian High School, who plays three musical instruments and wants to become a schoolteacher, regrets not being able to dance and play sports, but having the disease has given her compassion for those with disabilities.
"I feel other people's pain more," Alyssa said. "If I see an old person going slow on the freeway, I wonder if her legs hurt."
Matt Tucker said his son has gained 15 pounds and his health is better since the family moved to Arizona. Although painful and exhausting, Nate can walk short distances, and his dad hopes he'll someday be out of a wheelchair.
"My biggest hope is that he can grow mentally and physically and become independent," Tucker said.
An eighth-grader at Highland Junior High, Nate likes Tom Clancy novels, writes horror stories and enjoys attending the Arthritis Foundation's summer camp in Show Low, where he is the spoons champ and adept at the game "If you love me, honey, smile."
Demonstrating at a recent foundation event at the Phoenix Zoo, Nate extends a constricted hand, on which a pretend diamond engagement ring sits, and says the magic words.
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