by Frances Gilham
Arthritis is not just a disease for old people; children get it, too.
That’s the message behind William’s Walk, a charity walk organised by Arthritis NSW to be held at Bondi on April 22.The walk is named after William Harris, who was taken to the doctor with persistent fevers and a rash when he was two. A few months later, he was diagnosed with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA), a type of inflammatory arthritis without a known cause.
His mother, Lauren Harris, had never heard of JIA but quickly realised it was a devastating diagnosis.
“Nobody wants to see their kids in pain. It was really sad, watching him having to crawl up the hallway because he couldn’t walk,” she said.
JIA causes continuous inflammation of the joints, which can lead to permanent damage. And William’s JIA was systemic. His organs were inflamed, too.
William died on April 17 last year. He was six.
Ms Harris teamed up with Arthritis NSW to organise William’s Walk in her son’s memory, hoping to raise awareness of JIA in both the general and medical communities.Karen Filocamo, the CEO of Arthritis NSW, said some children wait two years for a diagnosis of JIA.
“Often, GPs just don’t think of it,” she said.
But according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, JIA is one of the more common chronic diseases affecting Australian children. Arthritis NSW figures show that, in Australia, between one and four children in every 1,000 has the disease.
“Early diagnosis is the most important thing,” Ms Filocamo said. Early diagnosis means fast and appropriate treatment, reducing inflammation and preventing long-term joint damage.
Ms Harris agreed. She wants other children to have better outcomes than William.
“We want to make their lives better,” she said.
As well as raising awareness of JIA, William’s family hopes that this event will provide funds for Arthritis NSW. Arthritis NSW receives $38,000 annually from the NSW Ministry of Health, and depends on fundraising appeals such as William’s Walk, donations, and membership fees to fund their awareness-raising activities.
For more information, visit www.williamswalk.org.au