For the first time, Red Deer will participate in the Walk to Fight Arthritis, a national fundraising event for the leading cause of disability in Canada.
Red Deerians can join with 40 other Canadian communities on June 4th in support of Canadians with arthritis at Kiwanis Picnic Park. The goal is to both raise funds and raise awareness about this devastating disease.
Martha Ovalle is the volunteer coordinator organizing the Red Deer walk, and her motivation to get onboard is her nine-year-old son Eric who was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis when he was just seven.
She recalls it as a troubling time when Eric started developing symptoms but the answers weren’t quick in coming.
“We never really saw all of the symptoms at the same time,” recalled Martha. “He wasn’t feeling well that March, and then by August it would be something else.
“He would have a fever, and then he would have tests and nothing would show up,” she recalled. “He’d also be in pain with body aches. It was like he was getting the flu, but nothing would come of it.”
By the end of 2014, he was in pretty bad shape, she said.
“He couldn’t walk, he couldn’t move. We had to help him to move around, and we had to carry him everywhere.”
Initially, physicians couldn’t come up with an explanation.
Before long, his eyes were also affected. It was the Uveitus – red eyes with blurred vision – that finally led doctors to a diagnosis. It was a rather shocking diagnosis, as arthritis isn’t typically a condition that is immediately associated with younger people, particularly young children.
“His neck, shoulders, elbows, hands, wrists – it was in all his joints and he ended up in a wheelchair,” Martha said, adding that she just didn’t know what to do or say at the time. “You feel alone.”
Thankfully, she found that she wasn’t alone.
Martha said that The Arthritis Society provided background on Eric’s diagnosis and connected her with other families.
“They were available for everything we needed.”
The community at large has also been very supportive, including the staff and students at Eric’s school – Holy Family School. “The school has been very helpful,” said Martha, adding that several are also planning to join in for the walk.
According to The Arthritis Society, it is estimated that as many as 24,000 Canadian children aged 18 and under live with a form of arthritis, or more than three out of every 1,000 kids. Arthritis is one of the more common disorders resulting in chronic disability in children and teens in Canada.
The most frequently diagnosed form is juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA).
Meanwhile, to date, community support across the country has helped the Walk to Fight Arthritis raise more than $8 million to support the Society’s research and education initiatives.
“The Walk gives Canadians an opportunity to move – and to be moved,” said Janet Yale, president and CEO of The Arthritis Society. “It’s amazing to think that something so simple can have such a profound effect, but it’s true – with every step, we can each help erase the pain and create a future free from the shackles of arthritis.”
The Ovalle family is originally from Mexico but came to Red Deer four-and-a-half years ago via Calgary.
Now young Eric – a warm, happy and friendly young fellow – is on the move again thanks to his weekly Methotrexate and bi-weekly doses of Humira.
Flare-ups do surface occasionally (the last one was this past February) but all through the years she said her son has had a positive attitude and tried to keep a smile on his face. “Even on the worse days, he was still smiling.”
She is excited to be organizing the June 4th walk in Red Deer and is hoping to find a few more committee members to share the work. She added that part of her goal is to raise awareness that arthritis doesn’t just affect older people – young kids can be diagnosed with it as well.
Meanwhile, registration for the local walk is at 10 a.m. with the walk set to start at 11 a.m.
Those interested in participating can visit www.walktofightarthritis.ca or call 1-800-321-1433.