Young girl’s arthritis diagnosis prompts family to action

by Symptom Advice on November 28, 2011

FORT WALTON BEACH — When the 2011 Jingle Bell run for Arthritis kicks off Dec. 3 downtown, Maj. Mari Garcia and her three daughters will be at the starting line.

The annual race, and the fight to cure arthritis, holds a special place in Garcia’s heart. her middle daughter, Emma, was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis when she was 11 months old.

“she came home from day care with these swollen fingers and toes,” recalled Garcia, who is stationed at Hurlburt Field. “they were like sausages.”

Emma, who wasn’t walking yet, couldn’t bend her fingers or toes. after examinations and X-rays didn’t reveal anything, doctors referred Garcia to a pediatric rheumatologist at Nemours Children’s Clinic in Pensacola.

“he took one look at her and knew exactly what was wrong,” she said. “At first they tried a low-dose chemo drug and that didn’t work.”

Eventually doctors tried Enbril, a drug designed to relieve symptoms of certain auto-immune disorders. it had to be injected, which Garcia described as unpleasant but necessary.

“I had to learn how to fill the syringe and flick the bubbles out,” she said. “Auri, my oldest daughter, would help me hold her arms. … I couldn’t have done it without her. (Emma) would cry and then she’d get Skittles.”

After two years, Emma went into remission.

“It’s sort of like cancer,” Garcia said. “they don’t say you’re cured. We’re just believing that God has healed her. I just believe that he directed our path.”

Today, Emma is an active 5-year-old who loves karate and gymnastics.

“Oddly enough, she is my most energetic, non-stop (child),” Garcia said. “She’s the first one up in the morning. I had to put her in karate because ballet just wasn’t her thing. she needed to scream and beat things.”

After Emma’s diagnosis, Garcia said she was overwhelmed with questions and began researching the disease.

“Arthritis is for old people,” she said. “I’d heard of psoriasis and I had heard of arthritis, but I hadn’t heard of them together, and certainly not in an 11-month-old.”

Garcia said she was especially “floored by the auto-immune part.”

“your body is attacking itself,” she said. “How do you deal with that?”

Out of gratitude for the research that developed the drug that helped her daughter, Garcia supports the Jingle Bell 5K each year. she always wears the T-shirt she received from her first Jingle Bell run in 1994 — well before she had children and would be affected by the disease.

This year Garcia has formed a team with friends, and even her youngest daughter, 3-year-old Maddie, will participate.

Without the Enbrel that forced her condition into remission, Emma’s life would have been much more difficult, Garcia said.

“she wouldn’t have been able to hold a pencil in school,” she said. “she wouldn’t have been able to make a fist.”

For more information about the Jingle Bell run for Arthritis, call Pat Faber at 779-1449.

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