- Associated Press - Monday, July 31, 2017

CALEDONIA, Wis. (AP) - As Caledonia teen Katrina Bargender stepped into her new pool with two of her siblings, her eyes lit up and the smile on her face spoke volumes.

The teen, who’s been living with a rare illness for over a year, is now the proud recipient of a therapy pool, courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

On Feb. 23, 2016, Bargender lost vision in her left eye. This was the first symptom of an illness that would vastly affect her life.

After consulting with a doctor in March, Bargender, now 16, was diagnosed with Takayasu’s arteritis. The illness is a rare systemic type of vasculitis, a group of disorders that cause blood vessel inflammation, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The disease affects about two to three individuals per million people annually, and is most common in women ages 40 and younger, the Vasculitis Foundation reported.

Because of her illness, Bargender, a St. Catherine’s High School student, also suffers from extreme fatigue. This, along with a seemingly endless string of doctors’ appointments at Ascension All Saints Hospital in Racine and Froedtert and Children’s hospitals in Wauwatosa, has made it impossible for her to attend a full day of school since becoming ill.

“I never get everything done that I want to get done,” Bargender told The Journal Times . “At the beginning of a day, I’ll say, ‘I want to color and I want to make some jewelry.’ I’ll make a little list, but then I end up having to go rest instead of doing what I want to, and then the end of the day comes, and I’m like ‘Darn it, I didn’t even get to color today.’ “

Due to limited blood flow through her body, Bargender also struggles with vascular headaches and aches and pains that make her daily life a struggle.

The disease has no cure, but can be managed with medication, said Bargender’s mother, Kris Bargender.

Due to the immunosuppressants and blood pressure medication Bargender takes to manage her illness, she also gets sick quite often, with illnesses lasting longer than the average person.

“Basically, they just try to manage my symptoms, and hopefully, we’ll hear the ‘remission’ word soon,” Bargender said.

After using a hydrotrack at the Children’s Hospital pool and seeing how it allowed Bargender to exercise without pain and relieved some of her symptoms, Bargender told her special needs doctor she wanted a hot tub.

Her doctor then contacted the Make-A-Wish Foundation to see if Bargender’s wish was a possibility.

And in early summer of last year, Bargender’s family was given the news they’d been hoping for - Bargender had been granted a wish and her hot tub was about to become a reality.

With Bargender’s doctors from Ascension All Saints, Children’s and friends and family all in attendance, this past Friday, Make-A-Wish came and installed the new therapy pool in her backyard, complete with a party to celebrate her “Wish Day.”

The Make-A-Wish Foundation also supplied a cake, taco bar and gifts.

Bargender was able to take her first swim Saturday after the pool water warmed to 80 degrees and the necessary chemicals were added.

“It really takes away my pain,” Bargender said. “And it will help me to be able to exercise without pain. It really reduces my headache and my stomach pain - just my overall pain. It’ll help me to be physically active.”

Her mother is thankful that her daughter was able to receive the pool, and grateful to the Make-A-Wish Foundation for making her daughter’s wish come true.

“It’s amazing,” Bargender said. “I used to say before I got my wish, they say it transforms people’s lives and it points them in a more positive direction with their disease … Now that I got my wish, I just can’t stop smiling about it. It just makes me so happy.”

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Information from: The Journal Times, https://www.journaltimes.com

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