Sometimes the T-shirt says it all.
And on Sunday, six-year-old Josh MacDonald personified the very shirt he wore as he led participants on the five-kilometre Walk for Arthritis along the Sydney waterfront.
The message on his specially designed bright blue shirt was short and to the point: “Arthritis won’t stop me.”
On the day of the walk, Josh was feeling good. Really good. In fact, he was so fast off the starting line that the photographer assigned to the event failed to capture his picture. Within seconds, Josh was already a distant blue dot far down the Sydney boardwalk.
His seemingly boundless energy was contagious, and his determination proved inspirational to the more than two dozen people who took part in the 10th annual walk, which was also held in more than 30 communities across the country Sunday.
The Cusack Elementary School student has been dealing with the often painful and debilitating symptoms of the chronic disease since he was diagnosed with the inflammatory condition at the age of two.
“We noticed it when he was learning to walk — he was very stiff, and his walk was robotic at times,” recalled mom Kerri Manuel, who expressed a little disappointment that the event drew so few people.
“After he was diagnosed we didn’t know what we were dealing with and the last thing we were thinking about was arthritis because we thought that was something that older people got.”
But at the age of two Josh was sent to the IWK in Halifax where the hospital’s pediatric rheumatology department diagnosed with him juvenile idiopathic arthritis, an inflammatory joint condition present in one of every 1,000 Canadian children.
“He’s so good today — looking at him you just wouldn’t know he suffers from anything,” mused his mother, who took part in the walk along with husband Christopher and a number of other family members.
“He has such a great attitude and he always says arthritis won’t stop him — but it does slow him down and when it flares up his legs can’t bear any weight and he has to be carried to the bathroom or to bed.”
Manuel, who is a teacher at Cusack school, said the painful flareups that indiscriminately target joints all over his body forced Josh to miss a tremendous amount of school this past year. But she says her son has accepted his arthritic condition and at school recently read aloud from a children’s book about arthritis.
“They are kids and they ask a lot of honest questions — one student asked him if he could die from it and he said ‘no’, but that he hoped there would be a cure someday so that the pain in his joints would be gone,” she said.
“We are learning so much about life from him — he’s an amazing little guy.”
Family friend and Cusack teacher Donna Sawlor took part in the walk along with her daughter Rita Buckland.
“We came out to support Josh and everyone else who has arthritis, including my own mother,” said Sawlor. “Arthritis is in our family — wouldn’t it be nice to have a better treatment for it than just Tylenol?”
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, an estimated six million Canadians have arthritis and nearly 60 per cent of those diagnosed are younger than age 65.
While there is no cure for any of the 100 known types of arthritis, early diagnosis and appropriate treatment, such as physical activity, self-management education, rehabilitative interventions, medication and even surgery, can help reduce the impairment and improve the patient’s quality of life.
The Walk for Arthritis has raised about $12 million in Canada since it began a decade ago.