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COLONIE: Walking past the pain

Meghan Mitchell is one of nearly 300,000 American children affected by juvenile arthritis, and one of only a handful in the Capital District who suffer from the condition.

At times it can be painful and debilitating. Other times it can be non-existent.

Meghan, 12, a seventh grader at Sand Creek Middle School, has been battling arthritis since she was first diagnosed at age 7.

Recently, she and her mother, Thomi Mitchell, 39, took a break from preparing for the annual Arthritis Walk on Saturday, May 12, to talk about the condition.

They talked about the confusion and terror of first hearing that Meghan had juvenile arthritis.

She was having trouble reading in first grade. We made an appointment to see an optometrist to see if she needed glasses, said Mitchell, a third-grade teacher at Saddlewood Elementary School.

Almost immediately, the optometrist noticed swelling of Meghan's eyes, which in some children is a telltale sign of juvenile arthritis. She didn't need glasses to help her read, she needed medication to ease the swelling and take the pressure off her optic nerve. Meghan was suffering from Uveitis, a condition that affects 13 percent of children diagnosed with juvenile arthritis.

"Initially we were terrified because there was not a lot of info. There were no support groups so I had to go on the Internet, and I heard horror stories," said Mitchell.

Meghan could go blind or lose use of her limbs if her condition isn't treated. Upon diagnosis, doctors pinpointed Meghan's knees and ankles as the location of her arthritis.

Some children have it much worse, said Meghan. It spreads to many joints and leaves them wheelchair bound, barely able to control the condition with the handful of medications available.

It wasn't until she became exposed to other children living with the condition that the family got a taste of how serious juvenile arthritis is.

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