| Elli Tracy likes to play with her dolls, ride the Razor scooter Santa brought her for Christmas and go to kindergarten at Northfield Elementary School.
“I like to play church with my babies,” the 6-year-old said, explaining she puts her dolls on the stairs in her parents house in Murfreesboro. The spunky redhead imagines the steps are pews and sings hymns to her pretend congregation.
Elli is full of love and laughter now, but it’s taken a while.
“Now she can do anything any other kid her age can do,” her dad Jim Tracy said.
But that hasn’t always been the case. Three years ago little Elli was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis, a painful disease characterized by swelling, tenderness and stiffness of the joints.
The disease has changed her young life. And, for her struggles, she will be honored at the 5th annual Rutherford County Arthritis Walk, which takes place Saturday May 2 at Gateway Park.
Elli will be honored along with Jean Moser, who learned late last year she has Crohn’s Disease.
“Arthritis is one of the things that doesn’t only affect older people …” said Ashley Jordan, Arthritis Foundation of Tennessee’s community director for Rutherford County. “It doesn’t discriminate against race, age or gender. It can hit any one at any time.”
To help fight these and other diseases, the Rutherford County Chapter of the Arthritis Foundation hopes to raise $38,000 from the annual walk.
The funds will be used to support services for those who have the disease and research into possible cures. Services supported by the funds include the Primary Care and Hope Clinic, exercise classes, research grants, educational programs and advocacy.
The local chapter invites everyone who has been affected by arthritis, or knows someone affected, to form a team of eight-10 walkers for the community event.
To sign up a team, call 615-254-6795 ext. 107 or visit www.rutherfordarthritiswalk.kintera.org.
In January 2006 when Elli was 3 years old, she fell and scuffed her knee walking from Bible class at church.
“We placed a bandage on her knee and off she went,” Jim said.
Her parents, Jim and Raena, thought nothing of it, until a week later when Elli’s knee was red, swollen and painful.
So Raena took Elli to her pediatrician, and then to an orthopedist in Murfreesboro, and then a pediatric orthopedist in Nashville.
“Upon initial exam, (he) believed Elli had either juvenile rheumatoid arthritis or leukemia,” Jim said.
Raena said they were shocked at first and didn’t know what to pray for.
“That was scary …” she said, explaining it was the longest weekend of her life. She and Jim prayed that it would be arthritis. “It’s debilitating but not life threatening like cancer.”
And their prayers were answered. Elli was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis.
Elli went to Vanderbilt’s Monroe Cantrell Children’s Hospital Pediatric Rheumatology Department for treatment. Specialists there suggested an aggressive medicinal approach.
“As her parents, we were afraid to give Elli such potent drugs at such a young age,” Jim said.
So Jim and Raena took Elli to Cincinnati’s Children’s Hospital and started a holistic approach, which focuses on a balanced diet full of nutrients from juices and leafy greens. They gave her Epsom salt bathes and worked out her joints in the warm water. The doctor drained water from her knees and gave her shots in the joint to relieve the pain and help her walk better.
But like most kids, Elli didn’t take to the healthy diet and lifestyle.
“We tried and tried. But her being so little, she didn’t understand it,” Raena said.
Her body didn’t respond well to it, either.
“She got so crippled we had to bring a toddler bed in our room at night,” she said.
It was hard for them to see her in so much pain, Jim added.
“When I had it,” Elli said, “I would lie in bed and not get up. Dad would carry me everywhere.”
On her next visit to Cincinnati, the doctors told Elli and her parents she would end up in a wheelchair without aggressive drug therapy.
“We tried everything we could to battle this disease, short of drug therapy, but we could then see that without it, our daughter would not be able to walk,” Jim said.
So, they began treatment with non-steroid, anti-inflammatory drugs. Within a few months, the swelling in Elli’s knees began to go down and Elli was turning back into the girl she is today.
It took a year and a half of drug therapy for Elli to be a kid again and to be able to run and jump and skip and play.
Elli’s life isn’t all sunshine and roses now, though. She still has to take medication daily that suppresses her immune system, meaning she’s more prone to illness and couldn’t get some of the usual vaccinations for kids her age.
She has to have her liver and eyes checked on a regular basis, because the medication can be damaging.
She can’t play soccer or any organized sports that could damage her joints.
But she can play church with her dolls and ride the Razor scooter Santa brought her for Christmas.
And she can form her own team at church and be one of the 2009 Rutherford County Arthritis Walk honorees.
Michelle Willard can be contacted at 615-869-0816 or firstname.lastname@example.org.