Jennifer Wright and her daughter Abigail will be running in the 5K Scotia Bank Charity Challenge this Sunday in Vancouver. Abigail

Running to fight juvenile arthritis

Arthritis is an affliction that many people have to deal with as they age — but it hardly seems fair that a little child could get it, about a year after she learned to walk.

That’s how it was for six year-old Abigail Wright of Hope, whose first signs of juvenile arthritis surfaced four years ago. It has been a struggle to get the disease under control but Abigail is now an active Grade 1 student and she and her mom, Jennifer will be running in a 5-km fundraiser this Sunday in Vancouver.

Arthritis is an affliction that many people have to deal with as they age — but it hardly seems fair that a little child could get it, about a year after she learned to walk.

That’s how it was for six year-old Abigail Wright of Hope, whose first signs of juvenile arthritis surfaced four years ago. It has been a struggle to get the disease under control but Abigail is now an active Grade 1 student and she and her mom, Jennifer will be running in a 5-km fundraiser this Sunday in Vancouver.

“Abigail was 25 months old when we noticed she was hobbling, then not even able to stand or walk,” recalled Mom on Monday.

“Her knee was swollen to double its normal size and was hot to the touch — then other joints started to hurt.

“It all happened over a two week span and she ended up spending 18 days in hospital, nine at MSA and nine at Children’s Hospital. They had to do exploratory surgery to find out what was going on.”

Abigail has to travel to Children’s once every four weeks for intravenous infusions of remicade. She also needs weekly injections of methotrexate, which are now administered at home. Then there are the daily eye drops to control uveitis, an inflammation of the inner eye.

“The symptoms are pretty well managed with maximum dosages,” said Jennifer, a Special Education teacher at Coquihalla Elementary. “I know a woman in Hope who has arthritis and she takes .1 millilitres less than Abigail — so Abigail is at the max for her body size.

“One in 1,000 children under the age of 16 can be afflicted with some level of childhood arthritis,” explained Jennifer. “It’s different than adult arthritis, so they have to treat it differently.

“Exercise certainly helps,” she added. “Abigail loves to swim and climb and run. It hurts if she falls down but she’ll go, go, go — then come to a complete stop. She’s got nothing left.

“I may have to carry her by piggy back to finish the run but that’s okay,” said Jennifer. “We’re not going to do it to win any prizes.”

While Mom hits the treadmill at home — three times a week for three to seven kilometres at a time — Abigail trains by playing intensely.

This will be Abigail’s first distance run but Jennifer did a half marathon fundraiser in Barbados in December of 2009.

“Abigail ran with me across the finish line,” said Jennifer. “She said at that time that she wanted to run the whole way next time.”

This weekend’s run is an interesting concept, organized by Scotia Bank. Forty charity groups have come together to run their fundraising drives in the 5K or half marathon runs.

The Wrights are running with the “Cassie and Friends” fund for children with juvenile arthritis. The group’s stated goal is “to bring all of the parents of children with juvenile arthritis in B.C. together.”

“Cassie and Friends has raised the most funds so far, the last time I checked,” said Jennifer.

It’s important to have the support of others who are going through similar challenges — and the Wrights were fortunate to meet two families that also had daughters of about the same age as Abigail who were hit by early-onset juvenile arthritis. One of them was Cassie… as in “Cassie and Friends”… and the other was Naomi.

“We’ll be running with Cassie and Naomi and their moms in the run on Sunday,” said Jennifer.

There’s also the group’s annual Family Day, this Saturday, which Jennifer’s husband Aydan and their three year-old daughter Naomi will also attend.

“This will be the fourth annual Family Day,” said Jennifer. “There will be international doctors coming in to give workshops for the parents and they’ll have activities for the kids and their siblings.”

If you’d like to help the group reach its goal of raising $100,000 in the run, make your donation through www.canadarunningseries.com/svhm/svhmCHARITY.htm .