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Living With Juvenile Arthritis: West Michigan Siblings’ Story of Struggle And Hope

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OTTAWA COUNTY, Mich. (April 29, 2014)–Arthritis is one of the leading causes of disability in the United States.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, in Michigan more than 2 million adults have arthritis and more than 10,000 children.  It’s a disability many may not relate to kids but the reality of it is growing.

For Christina and Steve Sowa from Ottawa County it’s one they know all too well; all three of their boys, ages 10, 8 and 3, are diagnosed with juvenile arthritis.

Christina Sowa says it’s hard to have three boys who suffer every day and struggle to do things normal kids can do. Even the simplest of things can be a challenge for the Sowa boys.  A flare up can change a good day into a bad one.

“Tying your shoes, your joints and your fingers are swollen, bending down to get socks on, just about everything we do,” she said.

Christina and Steve don’t have arthritis and they say it isn’t in their family. While there are still more questions than answers of what causes juvenile arthritis, in recent years progress has been made, especially in understanding the relationship between genes and environmental factors that are believed to play a role.

Dr. James Birmingham, one of the few Board Certified Pediatric Rheumatologists in the state, is the Sowa’s treating physician. He says three in a family isn’t rare but certainly unusual.

“We’re seeing that there is a strong genetic link and we’re trying to understand where links come from because if we can understand that maybe we can identify conditions earlier and also get more directed treatments,” he said.

Dr. Birmingham recommended the Sowa family go to the National Institutes of Heath in Texas.  They just got back a few weeks ago.

Christiana says they did a lot of testing, two years worth of doctor’s appointments in just a couple days.

“To have three boys and both parents, to be able to map out the whole genetic process and try to find links to where you know things could be connected,” she said.

The advantage could go beyond them, as they continue to make strides in research.

“As we learn more about the origin and the source then the more likely their experience will be able to be a benefit to other people,” said Dr. Birmingham.

Since the boys’ diagnosis, the Sowa’s say they haven’t hid anything from their kids.

“I can’t recall ever hearing of juvenile arthritis before our diagnosis, you wouldn’t know, it’s not out there enough. It’s part of the reason why we’re doing what we’re doing,” said Steve.

They say they are just trying to make the best of what they’ve been dealt with and couldn’t be prouder of their boys.

The results of the Sowa boys won’t be back for months but they have been asked to go back. This Saturday is the annual “Walk to Cure Arthritis” in Grand Rapids.

For more information on that and the Michigan Arthrtis Foundation: https://www.arthritis.org/michigan/


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