Valley family fighting for a cure for juvenile arthritis

PHOENIX - Most people think arthritis strikes only the elderly. It's just part of getting old. But that is simply not true.

Arthritis, can strike at any age and for the Balma family of Arizona the news sent them reeling.

"How could my baby girl have arthritis? She had been the picture of health up until that point. We had no family history of it. It didn't make sense," said Mona Balma.

Rowan had been limping for a couple of days so Mona and her husband, James, took Rowan to see her pediatrician.

Her doctor observed significant swelling in the child's right knee. 

"When she said she suspected juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, I was in absolute disbelief," Mona said.

It wasn't long before that pain and swelling had moved to little Rowan's left knee. Several months after that, the arthritis was present in her ankles and elbows.

At that point Dr. Kaleo Ede at Phoenix Children's Hospital recommended methotrexate. It is used for chemotherapy in high doses. In low doses, it has anti-inflammatory properties.

Rowan is four now. Over these past two years she has had arthrocenteses of both knees and ankles, two MRIs, three x-rays, three rounds of physical therapy, numerous blood tests and injections. 

"It overwhelms me to think of all Rowan's tiny body has endured," Mona said.

To see the effects this disease was having on their baby was devastating and would challenge any parent's strength.

"At almost every visit Dr. Ede suggested we get involved with the Arthritis Foundation. Initially I was hesitant," Mona said.

The Balmas are very private and were doing all they could to keep the news and their struggles contained to their inner family.

But as Rowan's JIA progressed Mona and her husband James became more receptive to the idea. 

"My husband and I decided to attend Camp ILA after a discussion with Dr. Ede. He said he thought it would be good for us, as a family, to be around other families going through similar situations. He was absolutely right," Mona said. 

Camp ILA was an amazing experience for the Balmas.

"To think if my daughter had some of the other things these other children are going through," said James. "It's terrible. Hearing their stories made us realize we would all have to help create awareness of juvenile arthritis".

Today this once private family is now part of a larger Arthritis Foundation family, James said.

"Hopefully we can find some type of cure in our life time... that's our goal," he said.

Rowan has been selected as the 2013 Youth Honoree for the Arthritis Foundation's Oscar Experience: Phoenix. 

This fundraiser on February 24th at the Camelback Inn is crucial to furthering research that will lead to a cure. Click here f or ticket information on this event.

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