Local seven-year old shows that arthritis can affect people of any age


“I couldn’t really walk down stairs. I told mom that my knee hurt. I’d grab my bike and try riding it, but it hurt.”

Those words summed up what it was like for Emily Goldstein to deal with arthritis, but Emily is not who most people think of when it comes to arthritis sufferers.

Emily is a 7-year-old second-grade student at Green Trails Elementary School in Chesterfield. While now in remission, Emily has suffered from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) since she was 3 years old.

“It’s rare. People don’t see it that often,” said Emily’s mother, Melanie Goldstein, a member of Shaare Emeth. “It’s not common. That’s why when I tell them, people say, ‘What?’ People think arthritis is a disease of old people. That’s the myth. Children are affected by it.”

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About 300,000 children age 17 and younger have been diagnosed with juvenile arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation, which has designated July as Juvenile Arthritis Month. Of those 300,000 children, about 50,000 suffer from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, the most common form.

Emily has been in remission since March 2006, and last Friday while talking with her in her parents’ Chesterfield home about how she likes art, riding her bicycle, playing basketball, softball and hip-hop dance and acting like any other child her age, an observer wouldn’t know she had ever had juvenile arthritis.

However, for the past four years, there were times when Emily couldn’t walk down stairs or pedal a bicycle.

“Thinking back, I remember when she was 3 years old and living in Florida, my mom got her a bike for her third birthday and I remember Emily loved to ride the bike,” Melanie said. “And then all of a sudden, she stopped riding her bike.”

When Emily was almost 2, she refused to walk down steps in the morning because arthritis made her knee joints stiff.

“The first signs came…she wakes up one morning and says, ‘Mom, my knee hurts’…then, the next morning, she woke up again. ‘Mom, my knee hurts and I can’t walk.’ I looked down at her knee. It was three to four times the size of the other knee…three to four times the normal size,” Melanie said.

Melanie took her daughter to her pediatrician, who told Melanie the only other time she saw something like Emily’s knee was a case of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

“She called in three other colleagues, pediatricians in the office. No one knew what to do,” Melanie recalled.

After visiting an orthopedic doctor, who said the condition might be reactive juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, “meaning that it’s here now and six weeks from now it could be gone,” Melanie said, Emily was treated with anti-inflammatory medication. However, the swelling in Emily’s knees did not cease.

When the Goldsteins moved to St. Louis, they took Emily to St. Louis Children’s Hospital as her knees became swollen again. Throughout the time, Emily remained on several different types of medicine for her arthritis. At one point, she had to visit Children’s Hospital every eight weeks for six months.

“I would say the most frustrating part of her having arthritis is the doctors’ visits we had to go to. Children’s was a long drive and a long way when you think about all you have to go through,” Melanie said.

“Also, she had pauciarticular [juvenile rheumatoid arthritis] meaning involving four or less joints…it was just in her knees, and because of that, girls who are at risk with four or less joints…are at risk for the eye disease, uveitis [eye inflammation]. She also had to go to the eye doctor,” Melanie said.

However, since March 2006, Emily has not seen a rheumatologist. “Her knees look good and she can do anything like any other kid,”Melanie said.

Emily was once an honoree for the Arthritis Walk, the Arthritis Foundation’s annual fundraiser. “We raised money and had a team, and she got up and we talked about her disease,” Melanie said.

While Emily had JRA as a child, that doesn’t necessarily mean she will have arthritis when she is older. According to the Arthritis Foundation, there is no known cause of most juvenile arthritis cases.