ROYAL OAK — Hannah Moleski, 6, first showed signs of having juvenile arthritis while the family was living in Florida three years ago.
Her left knee swelled to the point where she couldn’t walk.
“So, my husband was carrying her on his back because she couldn’t move,” said her mother, Amy Moleski. “It was just a swollen knee, so we figured she would be fine.”
When the swelling didn’t decrease three or four days later, her parents became concerned.
Amy said she and her husband took Hannah to the hospital. The doctors originally thought she had sepsis, a deadly blood infection that can often cause swelling. But tests came back negative. It wasn’t until visiting a children’s hospital in Orlando, Fla., that doctors correctly diagnosed her with juvenile idiopathic arthritis.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, overlooking arthritis as a diagnosis happens often with children.
“One of the biggest challenges is that arthritis is often considered an old person’s disease,” said Chris Cahill, the community development and marketing manager from the Arthritis Foundation. “And the medical community is just now getting up to speed with what is arthritis, how is it detected, who has it and what to look for.”
To raise awareness, the foundation named Hannah, from Berkley, this year’s youth honoree for its Arthritis Walk May 11. She and other honorees will be leading hundreds of other walkers through the Detroit Zoo for the organization’s annual fundraiser.
Mary Sue Lanigan, the foundation’s director of development, said the walk is the organization’s largest fundraiser. Last year, 2,600 people participated, raising $160,000.
Among other things, the foundation works to raise medical awareness of juvenile arthritis. It also attempts to encourage more medical students to specialize in pediatric rheumatology.
Currently, many states have only a handful of pediatricians who are board authorized to treat juvenile arthritis, according to statistics collected by the Arthritis Foundation. Some rural Midwest states have none.
Michigan currently has five. They are all located in the state’s urban areas, leaving the northern half of the Lower Peninsula and all of the Upper Peninsula without a pediatrician capable of treating children like Hannah, according to the foundation.
Convincing medical students to go into the field can be difficult.
Kara Dorda, a program director for the Arthritis Foundation, said the training program requires two additional years of medical school beyond what normal pediatricians endure, and they are often paid less than their peers going into the surgical field.
“It’s a longer period of time and school,” she said.
To register for the walk, the organization is requesting a donation of $15. Participants can walk any distance they choose, from a quarter of a mile to two miles, Cahill said.
“It’s all noncompetitive and fun and just to enjoy the day,” Cahill said.
After the walk, the participants will be treated to massages, a Zumba class and allowed access to the animal exhibits, including Princess — a 16-year-old Bactrian camel who, among other animals at the zoo, is suffering from arthritis.
When Amy told Hannah about seeing a camel that also suffers from arthritis, Hannah became excited and began practicing her march in the family’s living room.
Since being diagnosed three years ago, Hannah has been taking four pills a day to slow the effects of arthritis, and she has to do physical therapy at home and school. Hannah said the thing she dislikes most is the weekly shots of methotrexate.
Hannah dreads the shots because they make her nauseated.
“A 3-year-old should not have to worry about that,” Amy said.
But Hannah has many days when she can be like every other child her age — running and swinging in the backyard with her sister, Tessa, 5.
When asked what she’d say as encouragement to a child her age just diagnosed with the same disease, Hannah said she’d ask, “Want to play?”
Those interested in walking May 11 can register online at arthritis.org/Michigan or by calling (855) 529-2728.
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