Music has been Margo Deihl’s passion since childhood. In fact, her doctor assumed her first arthritis symptoms when she was 8 years old were due to excessive violin and piano practice.
“Suddenly my right hand was swollen. The doctor said, ‘You’ve overworked yourself!’” says Margo, 22, who will graduate this year at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va.
But her swollen right hand and equally mystifying walking problems after exercising at school were signals of something more serious. A year and 14 physicians later, the Spotsylvania, Va., native was diagnosed with scleroderma, a chronic autoimmune disease marked by hardening of the body’s tissues. Soon after, when she was 9, doctors determined that Margo also juvenile arthritis (JA).
Despite years of pain, inflammation and strong medications, Margo still pursues her goals.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve wanted to be a doctor. My dad was a paramedic, and he’d bring home stethoscopes for me to play with,” says Margo, who is majoring in biology with a minor in chemistry, and plans to be a pediatrician. “I will be able to use my arthritis and other conditions to better relate to patients as a doctor. It helps when the doctor can actually say, ‘I walk in the same shoes that you walk in.’”
Margo continues playing violin, as she has since age 5 despite her symptoms. “Especially when the scleroderma hit, it be-came difficult to play, but the therapist said it was good for me.”
Margo was the first-chair violinist in high school and played regularly at her church. To study violin at James Madison, she was required to add a minor in music to her chemistry minor. She has played in the college’s opera orchestra for five years.
“Music is something that channels my emotions. Music goes beyond what words can say. It’s a comfort to be able to express yourself” this way, she says.
She also volunteers with the Arthritis Foundation, participating in local fund-raising through the Arthritis Walk, mentoring young children with juvenile arthritis (JA) at the annual Juvenile Arthritis conference, and participating in Advocacy Summits on Capitol Hill to promote arthritis-related legislation to members of Congress.
“This past summer, I was an intern at the Arthritis Foundation Washington, D.C., office, where I also worked on Capitol Hill in a congressman’s office and worked on TMJ disorder research as it relates to arthritis,” she says.
Margo’s faith helps her get through tough times, and she tries to stay physically active to maintain her flexibility, strength and overall fitness. “The disease tries to conquer my body, but I can conquer it by doing the things I love,” Margo says. “I have to keep smiling. I know there are many other kids going through this, too.”