A nutritional science major and water polo athlete at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, Jake Anderson is using his experience with juvenile arthritis to direct his future. Anderson, now 23, was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) at the age of five when his parents noticed him limping when he ran. Their doctor initially thought it was a sprained ankle, but after six weeks in a cast, the condition only kept getting worse. He was then diagnosed with JIA by a pediatric rheumatologist at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City.
Despite the aches and pains of arthritis, Anderson never let his diagnosis slow him down and swam competitively throughout school. At 18, after not having symptoms for a year, Anderson figured he’d outgrown his arthritis and decided on his own to stop taking medication. But just a few years later, at 21, his arthritis came back in full force. Anderson recounts the episode, “I had to find an adult rheumatologist and get back into it. It was a unique experience – I thought I was done with it, and for it to then come back like that. It felt like the first time I was diagnosed.”
Having that flare during such a pivotal time in his life – his freshman year of college – greatly influenced Anderson’s goals and aspirations.
“I was in anatomy class at university and I was talking to a girl sitting near me. It came out that we both have arthritis.” And that’s how Anderson’s involvement in the Arthritis Foundation began. The young lady was involved with their local Jingle Bell Run and she encouraged him to volunteer at the event. “The next summer [Utah welcomed] our first JA camp, camp KODA, and I was asked to be a camp counselor for that. I’ve been helping out with events ever since.”
At the beginning of 2017, Anderson and the Arthritis Foundation office in Utah created a young adult committee for the local volunteer board. Its purpose is to act as a liaison for young adults with arthritis in the area. Anderson says their main focus right now is to start a group for teens that will include monthly activities. He wants to get them involved with each other and encourages them to give back to the community.
“We’re just getting started,” Anderson explains. “I’m hoping we can start a long-term program where we young adults act as peer mentors for teens transitioning to young adulthood.” Transitioning from a pediatric to an adult rheumatologist, learning to manage your own healthcare, and becoming independent can be big issues for a lot of people, he says. “We want to facilitate a better transition.”
Anderson began college as a pre-med major, and started working in a lab after his first semester. That’s when he discovered his love for research. “I found that my ideal career path would be medical research,” he says. “ I’d love to get into pediatric rheumatology. Do both research and clinical work.”
To help solidify that decision, Anderson shadowed both his former pediatric rheumatologist, John Bohnsack, MD, and his current rheumatologist, Dorota J. Lebiedz-Odrobina, MD. He followed each of them for a couple of days as they did their hospital rounds and saw patients in clinic. He got to ask a lot of questions and really get a feel for what being a rheumatologist is all about.
Anderson is almost done with his junior year at Brigham Young and will be applying for medical schools this summer. He says he’s excited about pursuing a fulfilling career caring for and improving treatments for kids with arthritis.