Andy Boockmeier and his wife, Annie, have witnessed the power of medication – twice – since their daughter, Bridget, was diagnosed with polyarthritis shortly before her fourth birthday.
First she was started on an NSAID, but that didn’t seem to make a significant dent in her pain and inflammation. On her worst days, the Chicago girl struggled to rise from bed, her legs shaking once they hit the ground. Her parents would carry her downstairs.
So Bridget’s physician started the little girl on methotrexate, warning that a month or more might pass before it took effect. But in just a few weeks, the payoff was clear. Andy vividly recalls the morning when Bridget got out of bed and began kicking her legs into the air “like a drum major.”
Fast forward two years; Bridget had hit another painful wall. “It got her everywhere a joint possibly could,” says Andy, recounting that August stretch. By September, Bridget’s physician had administered the first shot of etanercept (Enbrel). Again, they were cautioned not to expect too much too fast.
“The next morning she got up, put on her gym clothes and bounded down the stairs for breakfast and got onto her chair without a bit of help,” Andy says.
“I remember asking her, ‘Do your knees hurt?’ ” he recalls. “And she said, ‘No.’ And I said, ‘Do your fingers hurt?’ And she said, ‘No.’ And I said, ‘How does your neck feel?’ She turns it from side to side and says: ‘It feels fine.’
“My wife and I, we couldn’t even say anything. Our eyes were full of tears,” Andy says.
Results Outweigh Concerns
Andy sometimes gets asked about the powerful drugs his daughter takes and whether he worries about the uncertainties associated with their long-term effects.
“You have to put that stuff behind you,” he says. “Right now the most important thing is getting my daughter’s health under control and I feel like we’re there. I pray that this [medication regimen] won’t have a long-term effect on her. But right now her body and her joints and just her overall well-being need this medicine just to feel healthy.”
At 11, Bridget continues to have great results from the combination of Enbrel and methotrexate. This year was the first time she was able to compete in sports and represent her school. In the fall, she ran cross country, which was a one-mile run. “Each meet she got better and had gained a lot of confidence in her ability at by end of the season,” says Andy.
But Bridget didn’t stop there – once the cross country season ended she started basketball and then volleyball.
“Through it all Bridget never had to miss a game because of her arthritis,” says Andy. “She certainly had her moments during meets and games when she said she was hurting, but she never quit.”
Fun at Camp
Perhaps Bridget’s favorite thing to do now is to attend Camp Juvenile Arthritis and Me (JAM) in Lake Geneva, Wis., says Andy. “She first attended camp three years ago and had a blast.” Since then, she has started each year with a countdown until the first day of camp. “Most kids do this for their birthday, but for Bridget, camp is the best part about summer,” he says.
“As parents, we are very grateful for the good health that she has enjoyed over the last few years,” says Andy. “This would not be possible without her rheumatologist at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago and the great medicine she takes. She continues to be an inspiration to us of what someone can accomplish when you do not allow any obstacle to slow you down.”