Traverse City Record-Eagle


April 4, 2008

Arthritis is family's focus

Sisters, mom advocate for prevention, control and cure

BENZONIA -- Jessica Brian watched as her little sister lived with the pain of juvenile arthritis.

Jessica, 12, knew how Olivia's hands and knees ached and how the disease kept her 8-year-old sister indoors when winter arrived and the days grew too cold. Jessica understood arthritis wasn't only an older person's disease.

Then, around Christmas, doctors told Jessica the pain she felt when she chewed gum was the result of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, which caused deterioration of the bone in her jaw.

"I was kind of glad I got it, because my sister could teach me all the ropes," she said.

Jessica's condition is one more reason the Brian family of Benzonia remains committed to arthritis causes. The two girls and their mother Laura Brian travelled to Washington, D.C. in late February to rally support among Michigan's elected leaders for the proposed Arthritis Prevention, Control and Cure Act.

The family learned Olivia, the youngest of three siblings, had psoriatic arthritis when she was a toddler. She manages the condition by taking numerous pills daily and making routine medical trips to Ann Arbor.

"In the winter, I don't go out for recess at all," Olivia said.

Jessica underwent jaw surgery in March and expects more procedures. Older brother Hunter, 14, who wants to be an architect and loves snowmobiling, was tested for arthritis. His results were inconclusive, but rheumatoid arthritis runs in the family's genes, Laura said.

About 300,000 children in the United States have a form of juvenile arthritis and 46 million adults have been diagnosed with arthritis, said Dawn Hafeli, vice president for programs with the Arthritis Foundation Michigan Chapter.

The foundation wants legislators to pass a proposed bill that would increase arthritis research, expand public health initiatives and encourage more doctors to pursue pediatric rheumatology.

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