Girl, 9, spreads awareness of juvenile arthritis

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The crippling pain of arthritis made it difficult to roll out of bed.

Bending over required a hand on the wall. Even grasping a toothbrush was impossible.

Arthritis had rendered the start of every day a nightmare for 7-year-old Brooke Wilkerson.

“All the sudden, she can’t get up, she can’t buckle her pants, she can’t brush her teeth. It happened so fast,” Danny Wilkerson, Brooke’s father, told the Daily Journal (http://bit.ly/1gaMqFg ).

For more than a year, Brooke has been working to overcome a rare form of arthritis that strikes children. With medication, she is able to control it and the damage that it does to her body.

She will be sharing her story this year as an honoree at the annual Indy Walk to Cure Arthritis, in the hope of letting people know that the disease doesn’t just affect the elderly.

“You just have to be brave. I’m able to be brave because I know God is with me,” she said.

Now 9 years old, Brooke has been treated so she can still do the activities of a normal child. Most days, she can run, jump and swing on the playground. A third-grader at Greenwood Christian Academy, she loves art and drawing animals.

But in mornings, sometimes her parents will find her crawling to the bathroom. It’s the only way she can move.

“She’s a lot better, but she still struggles,” Danny Wilkerson said.

Brooke was diagnosed with polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis in 2012.

The disease, which strikes children younger than 16, had caused 34 of her joints to become rigid and painful to bend.

If she needed something in the morning, Brooke had to yell to her parents for help. It was too painful to get up herself.

Tracy Wilkerson, Brooke’s mother, had to carry her to the bathtub for a hot bath then help her stand and get her arms and legs moving.

“In just six weeks, the arthritis had already spread from her knees to all of her joints,” Tracy Wilkerson said.

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