Kids whose lives are racked with chronic painOctober 5, 2012 - 7:00am
The symptoms Aaron Flanagan Corless describes when he is talking about his arthritis will be familiar to many sufferers.
“It can be hard to do things in the morning like opening the milk carton or the cereal bag. From when I wake up I am really stiff, so tying buttons or laces can be a problem. As the day goes on it improves.”
Aaron’s symptoms are common enough – what is unusual is his age profile. We associate arthritis with older people, but Aaron is just 14 years of age. His younger brother, 10-year-old Joshua also has the condition.
Aaron is a lively, intelligent boy, but it’s obvious from chatting to him in the kitchen of the family home in Knocknacarra that his condition – rheumatoid arthritis – has had a profound impact on his life. He and his mother Ruth sit around the table discussing it, while Joshua watches cartoons on TV in the sitting room and joins us occasionally.
Joshua was diagnosed with arthritis when he was four – Aaron was diagnosed a year and a half ago after he got a really bad pain in his groin.
“They thought it was a disc at first,” explains his mother. “His hip had slipped and that happens with active kids. It stopped, but then it happened on the other side. They did tests and couldn’t find anything.”
Because Joshua had been previously diagnosed with the condition, the experts felt they should explore that possibility. They sent Aaron for an MRI scan which showed swelling in the tendons on the hips.
Subsequent blood tests confirmed that it was rheumatoid arthritis.
This kind of arthritis can affect your hands so badly that it can render them useless, because it affects the bones and the tendons, says Ruth. “If Aaron does a lot of handwriting, his hand goes into a claw position and it’s difficult to straighten it.”
That presents difficulties with schooling, but Enable Ireland have organised a Voice Recognition system which Aaron can use in his school, St Mary’s College in Galway, if he gets tired from writing or typing. And he will have a scribe for his Junior Cert exam next year.
Getting through the day requires significant amount of medication for both boys.
At the moment, Aaron takes tablets daily and has injections twice a week to try and keep the condition under control.
There are side effects to the injections of the drug Enbrel, including flare-ups in the immediate area but rubbing ice into it helps. However, the tablets he is on, Methotrexate, can affect a person’s liver and also cause mouth ulcers – at present Aaron and Joshua have to have blood tests every four weeks to ensure that their livers aren’t affected.
Still, these treatments help – Enbrel which is a relatively new drug has done Aaron the world of good, according to his mother.
As if he hadn’t enough to cope with, Aaron has also been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, which causes widespread pain throughout the body, away from joints. “People with arthritis can get it,” says Ruth, adding that it mimics arthritic pains and has affected his arms, legs and back.
“It can cause you to get really tired and lose weight,” she explains.
Aaron is a bright, sparky teenager who has had a lot to deal with, but so far perhaps the most difficult thing is not being able to indulge in his passion for soccer.
He has been playing the game with local club Hibs since he was eight or nine and “even that’s gone now”, says Ruth.
“If I do two training sessions and a game, then I’m out because I wouldn’t be able to play for ages,” Aaron adds.
He feels bad because he can’t commit to his team properly, he says.
But he is an active person, which is good when you have arthritis, and gets his exercise from swimming and cycling – “I love swimming”.
For more, read this week's Galway City Tribune.