Human society is built around communities. Most communities consist of either family, neighbors, or colleagues, or acquaintances who share a similar journey. One of my communities was rocked yesterday when we learned of the passing of an eight-year-old girl from complications of systemic juvenile arthritis.
Yes, that’s right. Arthritis killed a little girl. Let that sink in for a moment.
My heart goes out to the family of that girl who had to make the agonizing decision to discontinue life support for their precious child. I have friends who have come close to losing a child, some on multiple occasions. I have watched fathers in tears describing the struggles their child has faced. I have held in my arms mothers remembering their battle with this horrible illness. I have nodded in sad recognition of the difficulties of other families. I, too have cried in unbelieving grief.
When I hear stories of other parents that have struggled to find a diagnosis for inflammation of the spleen or liver, fluid in the lining of the heart or lungs, high spiking fevers, strange rashes, joint aches, morning stiffness, or swollen lymph nodes, I realize how fortunate my family is. We have not had to deal with joint replacement surgery, eye inflammation that can lead to blindness, ridicule and judgment from family and friends who don’t believe the diagnosis, intolerant educators blinded by their ignorance, unavailability of trained pediatric rheumatologists, and a medical system that can make it almost impossible to obtain expensive life changing treatments.
Yes, we are fortunate. In spite of the loss of innocence of both my children, in spite of the dozens of medications my son has had to take in the last seven years, in spite of the hundreds of hours we have spent in doctors’ offices and hospitals, in spite of the thousands of dollars in lost wages, we are blessed. I have never wondered, although partially from denial, whether my son would live to see his next birthday. I have never had to choose between paying rent and buying medication. I have never lain awake nights wondering why doctors can’t figure out what is wrong with my child. I have never feared for my job because of too many medical appointments. Unfortunately, I have heard numerous stories of exactly these concerns.
There are other, less tangible ways we are fortunate. We have made lifelong friends in an instant. We have become stronger and more compassionate. Our family has become closer and more resilient. We appreciate the little things more. We don’t take our health for granted. Our faith has been strengthened.
Many people who learn of our situation feel sorry for us. While I appreciate the sympathy, it is unnecessary. I do not look at this as a curse. Yes, there are painful moments, such as this week. I and thousands of parents like me will never stop fighting for our children. But most arthritis parents have not lost a child. It profoundly wounds all of us when one does.