WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Stiff joints and swollen fingers at the young age of four tipped off Abby Rea’s parents that something was not right.

Courtesy: Rea family

The now-teen from Andover was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis (JA). The American College of Rheumatology estimates about one child in every 1,000 develops some chronic arthritis. 

“I couldn’t really stand up because my knees were so swollen. I couldn’t really move them too much. And then my fingers. I couldn’t move them a lot in the morning either,” Rea said.

As a child, Rea could not participate in gymnastics due to her joints and swelling, which led her to soccer: a sport she still plays today.

Her family says there are no pediatric rheumatologists in Wichita, but Dr. Jordan Jones of Children’s Mercy makes a trip down from Kansas City once a month to see patients.

Rea has been on various medications to prevent flare-ups, including Enbrel, methotrexate and steroids to accompany the medication. However, she is no longer on any medication since it’s been several years since her last flare-up.

“It doesn’t affect me too much anymore because I’ve had it for so long,” Rea said.

An optometrist monitors her vision to detect any flare-ups that could occur in the eye, which is common for some children with JA. Exercises help move lubrication to her joints, so they do not get stiff and swollen.

The Arthritis Foundation’s Jingle Bell Run is a highlight of wintertime with Rea’s family, who get dressed up for the cause. Funds from the 5K and fun run go to raise money for new arthritis research.

Rea also has fond memories of going to a JA summer camp as a child, where she met children from across the country with the same affliction.

Watching Rea move down the soccer field and kick the ball, an outsider could not tell she grew up struggling with JA.

She sums up her advice for others receiving a JA diagnosis in simple terms:

“Keep being a normal child, like just pretend like you don’t have it,” Rea said.