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Local girl keeps smiling through the pain

To many people, St. Patrick's Day is a day for wearing green and shouts of Erin Go Bragh! It's a day of parades, parties and Irish celebration. But for 4-year-old Ryann Hotaling, St. Patrick's Day 2007 was the first day she was unable to walk.

Her mother, Casey Hotaling, described Ryann as waking up that morning with a limp, "so I carried her downstairs," she said.

"Ten minutes later she was still limping and complaining about her knee," Hotaling said. "When I looked at it, it was twice the size of the other one, so I brought her to the doctors."

According to Hotaling, it took the doctors only a few moments to determine that Ryann has Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, a version of a disease that affects the joints in the human body that afflicts children.

Doctors did bloodwork and testing to ensure that the disease Ryann had was, in fact, arthritis. Hotaling monitored Ryann's swelling for six weeks, and saw no change.

"To be honest with you, I didn't even know that it could happen to a child. When the doctor told me, I was just in complete shock, and I think that it's just a common misconception that children cannot get arthritis," said Hotaling. "It's shocking as a parent to hear your child has rheumatoid arthritis."

Hotaling said that when Ryann was diagnosed, there were few options as far as specialists who work with the disease, and even now, the family has to travel to Massachusetts for Ryann to see the doctor.

But more than a year later, Ryann is learning to deal with her disease on a daily basis, even though some days are harder than others.

"She deals with morning sickness every morning. It can go anywhere from half an hour to even worse," said Hotaling, "It takes her a little while to get warmed up. When she's having a bad flare, even walking the mall or playing in the park is difficult for her."

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