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Even the young can get arthritis

Profile: Arthritis Walk honoree Taylor McLaughlin, age 7

Posted: May 1, 2010 10:46 p.m.
Updated: May 2, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Beth and Garrett McLaughlin with Taylor McLaughlin, 7.

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Taylor McLaughlin can tie her shoelaces but not too tight. Opening a bottle of water is a challenge.

And she can't play softball anymore - at least not for a little while. Little nodules have begun growing on her wrist.

"It's a sign that the arthritis is active," her mother Beth McLaughlin said.

Taylor is 7. At age 4, she was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, a condition that causes persistent joint pain, swelling and stiffness and affects 300,000 children, according to the website www.arthritis.org.

But as the young, vibrant blonde jumped on the trampoline in her Stevenson Ranch backyard on Wednesday, a smile on her face revealed no evidence of pain.

"She still has her opportunity days," said her dad Garrett McLaughlin. "She has her good days and her bad days. Mostly she's coping pretty well."

Taylor's medications allow her to enjoy some activity such as trampoline jumping and dancing. "I like to do jazz and hip hop," Taylor said.

Taylor's ability to handle her arthritis with maturity beyond her years has earned her a splash of recent attention as the Youth Honoree for the 2010 Arthritis Walk in the Park at Six Flags Magic Mountain. The walk will be held 7-11 a.m. on Sunday, May 16.

Tired joints
When she was 3 years old, Taylor's parents began to hear a recurring word in the little girl's vocabulary, "tired."

The McLaughlins had trouble getting her up in the morning because she was "tired." After a couple of blocks on family walks, Taylor would complain that her legs were "tired."

At first, the McLaughlins thought their youngest child might have a bad case of laziness.

But more serious questions started to develop when they noticed a mild limp in Taylor's gait and her inability to straighten her legs while running.

"I thought she had knock knees or some type of deformity," Beth McLaughlin said.

After several months of searching for answers, the third orthopedic pediatrician referred Taylor to a rheumatologist. Taylor was diagnosed with the most common type of arthritis in children under the age of 16. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, which means the immune system, which normally helps your body fight infection, attacks the body's own tissues.

Polyarticular disease, the form of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis Taylor has, affects five joints or more, sometimes many more.

Taylor experiences the most impact in her ankles, knees, fingers and jaws, her mother said. She is now on Methotrexate and Enbrel, a biological medication that works on the immune system by blocking proteins that contribute to the diseases development, according to www.enbrel.com. But the Enbrel injections also suppress Taylor's immune system and put her at risk for contracting a serious infection.

"She can't be near anyone that's sick," Beth McLaughlin said. "She's old enough to know that if she hears someone cough, she moves."

Limited but hopeful
Taylor does, on occasion, grow tired of her condition.

"She struggles and asks why she has arthritis and other kids don't," her mother said.

She likes going to the park just around the corner from the McLaughlins' home, but she can't walk there.

"My hips start to hurt," Taylor said Wednesday about her arthritis as she climbed up on her mother's lap.

The McLaughlins try to keep Taylor mobile with activities like dance classes. When she was diagnosed, her family moved to their home in Stevenson Ranch with a swimming pool - she can swim without having to worry about too much pressure placed on her joints.

"We try to give her activity she enjoys like dancing," Beth said. "But to go out and ride a bicycle - she doesn't enjoy it."

The McLaughlins stay hopeful for Taylor. They have to, Garrett McLaughlin said.

"The idea is to get her into total remission or at least to keep it from getting worse," he said.

The family will participate in four arthritis walks this year. They want others to understand that arthritis is not just a disease that affects older adults, Garrett McLaughlin said.

"The ultimate goal is to find a cure or better medicines," he said, "and to build awareness and advocacy."

The family is trying to raise $15,000 before upcoming Arthritis Walk at Magic Mountain but they're not there yet.

Beth, who works for Safeway Inc., and Garrett, who works for Vons, have become vocal advocates for the cause in their workplaces.

The Vons Foundation, the fundraising arm of Vons, has provided a $50,000 grant for arthritis walks throughout Southern California.

A team of about 50 friends and family will walk Magic Mountain's grounds in honor of Taylor on May 16.

For anyone who would like to donate to Taylor's movement to cure arthritis visit her team page at http://arthritiswalkmm.kintera.org/taylorssuperstars.

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