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About Me:
Katherine H., Age 16

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Katherine H.

My identity; such a loaded word. I am a “half-caff”. I am “too grown-up”. I am the “girl with arthritis”. All throughout my life, there have been many different events that molded me into the young woman I am today. When I was younger, I went to school where people pressured me into self-identifying.  Going to an all-white school gave me the strength to identify as both African American and German, instead of being pressured into not being black, “just tan”.  Being an older sister gave me the title of role model. The biggest thing to shape my entire life was being diagnosed with arthritis.

At fourteen months old, it is hard to notice when a baby can be experiencing pain such as arthritis. I mean, isn’t that supposed to be an old people’s disease? My family found out the hard way that, yes, even little children can get such a crippling disease. Since I walked at the age of nine months, it was easy to detect that something was very wrong when I started crawling again. Could their little girl be paralyzed? Will she be able to walk again? Finally, in August of 1998, my parents were referred to the Rheumatology Division of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. They put a name to my ailment, Polyarticular Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. Not only did I have arthritis in my knees and ankles, I also had it in my toes, elbows, wrists, and fingers. Our lives would never be the same again.

My first treatments were very harsh. I had steroid injections directly into my major joints and casts on my arms and legs. I looked like baby Frankenstein as I toddled around the house. My earliest memories are of doctors, shots, and big machines. X-rays became a part of my routine. Shots were now my best friends. After a while of treatments, therapy, and doctor’s appointments, I was able to do almost anything I wanted. Arthritis wasn’t much of a big deal. It had already become an integral part of me. It was as simple as my favorite color. Elementary school was the beginning of my long journey of acceptance.

At school, life was rough. I had to re-explain what I could and couldn’t do. Kids were not accepting. They claimed I used my arthritis as an excuse to get things. That was the final straw. In 7th grade, I stopped taking my medication. If other kids didn’t have to, why should I? That plan blew up in my face. I had a major flare up in eighth grade. More medication came my way. In high school, my meds stopped working. I was in a wheelchair for two months. I began to mentally grasp that my body was different, and for the time being I could never change that.

Having arthritis has opened my eyes to so many different things. It has given me so much empathy for those who are different. I decided in 4th grade that I was going to be a Pediatric Rheumatologist so I could help those who weren't so fortunate. Ever since I was young, I have been heavily involved in the Arthritis Foundation. I talk to others who have issues so they don’t feel alone. I had the opportunity to go speak to my congressmen about bills that would help so many people with similar ailments. I have recently been awarded the national “Emerging Leader” award through the Foundation. Having arthritis has woven my path for the future. If I could choose between being a normal healthy kid and having arthritis, I would have the disease. It has opened my eyes to a completely different world. I have the strength to be who I want to be, and speak out for those who don’t have a voice. Arthritis has been the biggest blessing in my life.


Katherine H.

My identity; such a loaded word. I am a “half-caff”. I am “too grown-up”. I am the “girl with arthritis”. All throughout my life, there have been many different events that molded me into the young woman I am today. When I was younger, I went to school where people pressured me into self-identifying.  Going to an all-white school gave me the strength to identify as both African American and German, instead of being pressured into not being black, “just tan”.  Being an older sister gave me the title of role model. The biggest thing to shape my entire life was being diagnosed with arthritis.

At fourteen months old, it is hard to notice when a baby can be experiencing pain such as arthritis. I mean, isn’t that supposed to be an old people’s disease? My family found out the hard way that, yes, even little children can get such a crippling disease. Since I walked at the age of nine months, it was easy to detect that something was very wrong when I started crawling again. Could their little girl be paralyzed? Will she be able to walk again? Finally, in August of 1998, my parents were referred to the Rheumatology Division of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. They put a name to my ailment, Polyarticular Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. Not only did I have arthritis in my knees and ankles, I also had it in my toes, elbows, wrists, and fingers. Our lives would never be the same again.

My first treatments were very harsh. I had steroid injections directly into my major joints and casts on my arms and legs. I looked like baby Frankenstein as I toddled around the house. My earliest memories are of doctors, shots, and big machines. X-rays became a part of my routine. Shots were now my best friends. After a while of treatments, therapy, and doctor’s appointments, I was able to do almost anything I wanted. Arthritis wasn’t much of a big deal. It had already become an integral part of me. It was as simple as my favorite color. Elementary school was the beginning of my long journey of acceptance.

At school, life was rough. I had to re-explain what I could and couldn’t do. Kids were not accepting. They claimed I used my arthritis as an excuse to get things. That was the final straw. In 7th grade, I stopped taking my medication. If other kids didn’t have to, why should I? That plan blew up in my face. I had a major flare up in eighth grade. More medication came my way. In high school, my meds stopped working. I was in a wheelchair for two months. I began to mentally grasp that my body was different, and for the time being I could never change that.

Having arthritis has opened my eyes to so many different things. It has given me so much empathy for those who are different. I decided in 4th grade that I was going to be a Pediatric Rheumatologist so I could help those who weren't so fortunate. Ever since I was young, I have been heavily involved in the Arthritis Foundation. I talk to others who have issues so they don’t feel alone. I had the opportunity to go speak to my congressmen about bills that would help so many people with similar ailments. I have recently been awarded the national “Emerging Leader” award through the Foundation. Having arthritis has woven my path for the future. If I could choose between being a normal healthy kid and having arthritis, I would have the disease. It has opened my eyes to a completely different world. I have the strength to be who I want to be, and speak out for those who don’t have a voice. Arthritis has been the biggest blessing in my life.

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