Brave teenager battles daily pain of arthritis


Last updated 05:00 28/08/2013

Charlotte Hewson


STRUCK DOWN: On good days, arthritis sufferer Charlotte Hewson, 16, sings, plays guitar, runs, and plays netball. At other times she can barely move.

The most annoying part of living with arthritis is not being able to go to school. Or sing, or play the guitar. Or missing netball practice.

“It’s so frustrating,” said teenager Charlotte Hewson, rolling her eyes. “I mean, I still try and do it anyway, but it’s really hard.”

Charlotte, 16, tries to stay positive about the arthritis she has suffered since she was 3 but she can’t remember what life was like without pain.

While it is often thought of as a disease of the elderly, arthritis can strike at any age. Charlotte is one of more than 1000 children nationwide who suffer from juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), which can affect babies under a year old.

Arthritis New Zealand has launched a campaign to raise $500,000 to fund research into and raise awareness of arthritis, including JIA.

Charlotte’s mum, Caroline Hewson, vividly remembers the day when she realised something wasn’t right.

“I took her to the pool, the Kilbirnie Aquatic Centre, and I looked down at her legs in the pushchair and one knee was about three times bigger than the other one. It was puffed up like a grapefruit.

“Since then, she’s probably been in hospital every school holidays.”

Arthritis is an autoimmune disease, in which the body becomes confused and attacks healthy cells. It mainly affects joints, causing chronic pain and swelling. Charlotte’s arthritis can be a dull ache or a roaring pain. It strikes at random. When she’s well, she sings, play guitar, runs, and plays netball. At other times she can barely move.

As a child she struggled to walk, and now she manages to attend Queen Margaret College about three days a week.

Charlotte’s arthritis is managed by various immunosuppressant drugs, and twice-weekly steroid injections. She keeps upbeat by surrounding herself with people who “don’t just care about stupid things”, and is a counsellor at Arthritis NZ’s youth camps.

“I just try to deal with the things I can change rather than the things I can’t.”

Arthritis NZ chief executive Sandra Kirby said the causes of arthritis in children were unknown. Genetics may be part, and it was thought some form of infection could trigger it. “It’s not an easy life, and it comes out of the blue.”

The annual arthritis appeal begins on September 4.


More than 530,000 New Zealanders live with arthritis, of which there are 140 different kinds.

It is the most common form of disability. More than half of all sufferers are between the ages of 15 and 64.

The most common arthritis is osteoarthritis.

More than 25,000 New Zealanders will not be able to work this year because of the disease.


– © Fairfax NZ News

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