It was an ordinary afternoon. Tricia Sanders was trying to get her eight-year-old daughter Maggie to soccer practice on time.
They were running late and putting on Maggie’s cleats was holding them up. Out of the blue, her shoes wouldn’t fit.
“My mom was putting on my soccer shoe and my foot was swollen,” said Maggie.
That was the beginning of the Tillsonburg family’s journey into the world of childhood arthritis.
“Within a short time it progressed from swelling on the foot to ‘your daughter has juvenile arthritis.’ It was shocking,” said Maggie’s dad, Ted Sanders.
As devastating as it was, having the proper diagnosis is key.
“A lot of people think it is just growing pains. But any swelling, redness or stiffness that lasts for a few weeks should be checked out,” said Dan Knight, manager of community development at the South West Region Arthritis Society.
For Maggie, the diagnosis meant daily injections and no more skating or soccer. There were frequent doctors appointments, lots of physical therapy, and hospital visits spent receiving cortisone injections.
“She never complained – not once,” said Ted.
“I would imagine she had been dealing with that pain long before the diagnosis,” he said.
Arthritis changed life for everyone in the Sanders’ family. Suddenly activities had to be scaled to their daughter’s current abilities.
Older brother Joey helped, too, trying to distract his little sister with funny videos during her daily needle time.
Instead of skating lessons Maggie was attending chronic pain workshops at the Tillsonburg hospital.
The South West Region Arthritis Society organizes those classes. The society also plans events, education sessions and home visits.
“When they run these workshops, it gives us an opportunity to connect with parents, so that we can share stories, and share trials and tribulations. And it gives Maggie an opportunity to meet other kids with the same condition, because in Oxford County there’s not many of them out there,” said Ted.
The South West branch is there to make sure that arthritis sufferers in Oxford County are not forgotten or left behind.
“We do have a therapy team that comes into this area,” Knight said.
“It’s all about the education, that’s why we love to do it, because everything is free. There is no cost to anything that we do for people.”
During this year’s Childhood Arthritis Awareness Month, the campaign is focused on the effort to “hand back childhood” to the more than 24,000 kids and teens suffering from the disease across Canada.
Luckily, the Sanders’ recently got some great news that will allow their daughter to take back her childhood in a big way.
Maggie, now 11, is free from all symptoms and pain associated with her arthritis. She’s officially in medicated remission and will spend the next year slowly weaning off drugs, too.
“It’s been a long trip,” said her dad.
“Why are we doing this? What do we want people to know?” he asked his daughter.
“Kids can get arthritis too,” Maggie said softly.