AMELIE Garrett will never forget her friends’ reaction when she explained she had arthritis.
“They said ‘But that’s what old people get,’” said Amelie, 14. “People don’t realise that even thought it’s rare in kids, arthritis can affect anyone. It doesn’t have an age limit.”
One in every 1000 children across Australia suffers from juvenile arthritis, a condition that is largely invisible.
Year eight student Amelie will be among 33 children aged eight to 18 with arthritis who will gather in Myuna Bay next week for an initiative run by Arthritis and Osteoporosis NSW called Camp Footloose.
Many of the children are not able to attend their schools’ camps, but are free at Camp Footloose to engage in adventurous activities with the support of a doctor and three nurses, who can dispense medications.
“I love playing basketball at school but if I can’t join in one day, a lot of kids say ‘Why aren’t you doing this?’,” Amelie said. “I’m not one to not want to talk about it, I want to raise awareness.
“But at Camp Footloose it’s easy – no-one asks you why you’re not doing something, because everyone knows what arthritis is.
“Instead, everyone wants to know about you, what’s your story – and it’s nice to share your experiences.”
Amelie was in year four when she started complaining of a swollen right knee around July 2012. Her mother, Rebecca Garrett, said the Jewells family did not realise the seriousness of her discomfort until noticing one day the knee was red and hot.
Amelie underwent tests, but did not receive any answers until she saw one of the state’s three pedateric rheumatologists.
Mrs Garrett said her daughter’s August 2013 diagnosis of juvenile idiopathic arthritis was a “relief”. “So many parents find out worse news than that,” she said. “We can deal with arthritis; once we knew what it was, we knew how to keep it at bay.”
Amelie has attended appointments in Sydney every six months since, to have her knee drained and injected with steroids. “It’s like having a new knee for a while,” she said.
Mrs Garrett said her daughter was one of the lucky ones – arthritis has not been found elsewhere in her body, her eyes are not affected and she is not on any medication. Amelie has even been able to attend all of her school’s regular camps.
But Camp Footloose is extra special. Next week will be her fourth year in attendance and she has been packed for days. “I love that there are so many activities,” she said. “I love the archery, the sailing, the kayaking and the high ropes. I’ve made a lot of different friends from all over that have different types of arthritis. We share our tips on how to deal with it.”