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Published October 07, 2013, 03:48 PM

Juvenile Arthritis more common than you may think

When you think of arthritis, you probably don't picture a 9-year-old, but juvenile arthritis is more common than you may think, especially in our region.

By: Stacie Van Dyke, WDAZ

When you think of arthritis, you probably don't picture a 9-year-old, but juvenile arthritis is more common than you may think, especially in our region.

Kaleigh Ann Heffernan was diagnosed with arthritis at age seven. "I had a lot of foot pain and my joints just really hurt," she told us. Her father Tom says "We kind of shrugged it off as growing pains but it just never seemed to go away.

Despite the rough road ahead for Kaleigh Ann, it is not a lonely one. Tami Byklum's daughter, Tori, was diagnosed when she was just 5 years old. In fact, there are more than 6,000 children battling arthritis -- That's just in North Dakota and Minnesota.

"I don't know if it's a diet thing, I don't know if its hereditary, it does kind of make you wonder a little bit with the arthritis more prevalent in this area. Is it from the water? Nobody really knows," says Tom.

It's a big problem, without a big solution for local families. Juvenile Arthritis requires frequent visits with a pediatric rheumatologist. The closest one is more than 300 miles away.

Doctors may soon be stepping up to fill the void, however. The University of Minnesota has started a fellowship Pediatric Rheumatology program to train more qualified specialists, while Altru physician recruiters tell us they have no plans of hiring a pediatric rheumatogolist.

Kaleigh Ann is the chair of the second annual Grand Forks Arthritis Walk Saturday at Choice Health and Fitness. Registration begins at 8:30 am. Teams hope to raise 20,000 dollars for research and education about the disease.

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