It started out in May 2011 with a sore knee.
The eventual diagnosis was life-altering for Walnut Grove resident Brooke McLean.
“It was really hurting,” eight-year-old Brooke recalled. “I couldn’t bend my knee. My mom just said, ‘Suck it up,’ and she put ice on it.”
But the pain persisted.
“It was an injury that didn’t seem to go away,” Brooke’s mom Leah said. “There wasn’t an accident, there wasn’t anything. I did the parental thing of, ‘Don’t worry, it will get better.’”
Brooke recalled, “I was just laying down and it just popped, and I couldn’t bend my knee and I just went into tears. I couldn’t do anything. It was all red and hot.”
By the time Leah took Brooke to the doctor, Brooke’s knee had swollen noticeably.
A blood test determined that Brooke’s hematology results were “off the charts,” Leah said.
On June 13, 2011, Brooke’s dad Peter received a call to pick his daughter up from Langley Fine Arts School and bring her immediately to BC Children’s Hospital.
“They phoned and said, ‘Take her now,’” Leah related.
At BC Children’s, Brooke was referred to the hospital’s Pediatric Rheumatology Clinic and within three weeks she was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis, which develops in children under the age of 18.
Juvenile arthritis (JA) is one of the most common chronic illnesses in Canada, affecting one in 1,000 boys and girls under the age of 16.
The disease primarily affects the joints and tendons connecting the joints, and some of these forms of arthritis can impact other parts of the body as well, including the skin, eyes, and internal organs.
Brooke now takes Naproxen twice each day to control the inflammation that causes pain and stiffness.
The little girl stressed, “One thing is, it’s not contagious.”
“It’s really important to her,” her mom added, “because the kids sometimes say that.”
Leah has a connection to the disease. Her rheumatoid arthritis is in remission.
“JA and adult rheumatoid arthritis are very different diseases,” she said. “Children are still growing and so it affects them much worse, especially their growth and development of their bones.”
Her own personal health challenge helped Leah realize that something wasn’t right with her daughter’s health.
Warning bells sounded one day when a classmate playfully tried to jump on Brooke, who forcefully pushed her away.
“She was protecting her knee, and it’s not normal for a child to protect an area so badly, so that knee must [have been] very sore,” Leah said.
The family hopes Brooke’s arthritis will go into remission as she gets older.
Leah said in some cases, children’s bones become malformed and they will end up in wheelchairs, or have to wear splints.
“The more joints that are affected when they’re young, the less chance of it going into remission,” Leah said.
JA now affects Brooke’s neck, wrists, ankle, and knee.
“It makes me tired,” she said.
Leah said children aren’t usually able to articulate their pain, “so they just become grumpy kids.”
But resiliency is part of the upbeat Brooke’s makeup.
“She’s a go-getter; she doesn’t stop,” Leah said. “And I think that’s what happens: she fatigues herself to a point where she’s probably hurting more than what she is.”
A successful racer who competes at the Langley Quarter Midget Association track on 8th Avenue in Aldergrove, Brooke isn’t about to let JA slow her down.
“Nothing slows Brooke down,” Leah noted.
The tyke’s plan is to continue racing quarter midget cars until she’s 16. Then, she hopes to graduate to stock car racing.
Since she started racing three-and-a-half years ago, Brooke had used a standard racing helmet.
The family has purchased a lighter helmet to ease the weight on her neck.
“Even if I have pain, I’m still going to do it,” Brooke told the Langley Advance. “I won this weekend in Portland Ore., I got a third place ribbon and two champion cups.”
The only girl in her racing class, Brooke leads the LQMA Jr. Honda points series.
The lettering on the front of her favourite T-shirt reads “Silly boys, race cars are for girls.”
This Saturday (July 14) Brooke will be helping out at a benefit car wash and barbecue at the Walnut Grove Kirmac Collision & Auto Glass, 19875 96th Ave.
The event supporting the LQMA and Kirmac Cares for Kids runs from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m.
“We asked if they would donate [some of the proceeds] to the pediatric clinic at Children’s because we would really love to see a cure for this,” Leah remarked.
Kirmac supports BC Children’s Hospital by donating a percentage of income from every repair to the hospital.
Kirmac Cares for Kids was launched in September 2010 in all of Kirmac’s 10 locations throughout B.C.