Emma Webb Kirkpatrick puts face to juvenile arthritis

Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:48 pm

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It all began two years ago, with what family members thought were growing pains, but was actually the onset of juvenile arthritis.

Emma Webb Kirkpatrick, daughter of Dina and Danton Green, Maryville, and Steven Webb, Moore, OK, was an active 11 year old, who didn’t say anything about her knees hurting for a week.

When Emma finally said something, her knees were swollen and warm to the touch. The family tried to determine if Emma had been injured, finally chalking it up to growing pains. But the growing pains weren’t going away.

“All this pain Emma was in, but no injury,” said Dina.

Emma, who had heart surgery just after she was born, goes to a cardiologist every year. The doctor, after hearing the symptoms, set up an appointment with a rheumatologist. Emma went through a series of blood tests, x-rays, CAT scans, MRIs and was diagnosed with oligoarticular juvenile idopathic arthritis (JIA).

According to the rheumatology.org website, one in 1,000 children develop some type of juvenile arthritis. Furthermore, oligoarticular JIA, which involves fewer than five joints in its first stages, affects about half of all children with arthritis. Girls are more at risk than boys. Older children with oligoarticular JIA may develop “extended” arthritis that involves multiple joints and lasts into adulthood. Eye inflammation may persist independently of the arthritis. Because iritis usually does not cause symptoms, regular exams by an ophthalmologist are essential to detect these conditions and identify treatment to prevent vision loss.

Coping with juvenile arthritis

Treatment was started for Emma right away, with fluid being pulled off her knees and injections of steroids. She had two rounds of treatment on her knees and one round on her ankles.

“Children’s Mercy Hospital is really amazing,” Dina explained. Emma liked the glasses that played movies as she had to be so still while she was tested. She has been there so much that she can check herself in on visits, which makes her feel grown up.

Dina also talked about her daughter’s recuperative abilities and how after the treatments, Emma wanted out of the wheelchair and to walk the next day.

It is not known what causes juvenile arthritis, but hereditary factors may influence: Emma’s maternal grandmother has arthritis. Dina wanted to emphasize that unexplained joint pains, swelling, fevers, not be glossed over as growing pains by parents, because juvenile arthritis left untreated can have dire consequences. Infants, who go from active to listless could also be showing symptoms of the onset of juvenile arthritis.

However, the treatments proved to not be enough and her doctor started her on a weekly shot of methotrexate, which suppresses the immune system. There has been positive results with this, as no more joints have exhibited damage and the pain and swelling in the treated joints have subsided.

The Greens have made Emma’s treatment a family activity. Her two younger sisters, Isabel and Arya Green, are included on the family trips every three months for blood work, every six months for eye exams and every year for the cardiologist.

The whole family eats the diet recommended for Emma, which Dina says is just eating healthy. Emma also takes folic acid which helps curb the side effects of the medicine.

Emma, who has now turned 13, sometimes grumbles about the regimen of medicine. The hardest part is the treatment, which must be done faithfully on schedule. Emma has a high pain tolerance, which makes her think she could handle the pain, but her mother reinforces that the untreated arthritis could do further damage to her body and eyes. Children sometimes grow out of juvenile arthritis, but Dina thinks that it’s unlikely that Emma will because of two positive tests Emma has had for rheumatoid arthritis.

She will be in eighth grade this year and plans to go out for volleyball and track where she does the 100 meter sprint, long jump and hurdles. Her mother says she is unstoppable when the meds are working and her joints are not swollen.

Art for Arthritis

Art plays an important part in Emma’s life. Many members of her family are involved in artistic endeavors and she has picked up the creativity passion. So when her doctor recommended her for the Art for Arthritis program which pairs 15 children with a professional artist, it was an opportunity for Emma to turn a negative aspect of her life into a positive outcome.

“I wanted to be special, but just not like this,” Emma was quoted as saying in the program for the 2013 Art for Arthritis benefit. The professional artists and children’s artwork are auctioned to raise money for nationwide arthritis research and advocacy, as well as local programs and services. Over 3,000 children in the Kansas City area have juvenile arthritis.

Emma is going to participate in the 2014 Art for Arthritis event, which is in its 11th year. This year she will partner with her father, Danton, with each creating a unique piece to be auctioned.

The First Friday Preview Party will be Friday, August 1, at Twenty20 Gallery, 2020 Baltimore Avenue # 102, Kansas City, MO 64108. The Art for Arthritis auction and finale will start at 6 pm, Friday, September 26, at The Gallery, 61 East 14th Street, Kansas City, MO 64105. For more information on Art for Arthritis, visit their website at artforarthritiskc.org.

Emma works on her submission for the Art for Arthritis 2013 Benefit. She worked with Kim Higgins, a professional artist, to create original art that was auctioned to benefit the Arthritis Foundation.


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