When Eric Olvera was seven years old, he developed a fever and a limp.
Soon his body was covered in a mysterious rash, his vision was blurred, and his joints so painfully sore he had to use a wheelchair.
His mother, Martha Ovalle, was shocked when her son was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis.
“There was nobody else in our family (with this) … At the beginning, we thought it was just us. I felt so alone …” she recalled. “I cried all the time …”
Now the Red Deer family, who emigrated from Mexico four years ago, has found support through The Arthritis Society.
Ovalle and her son, Eric, have met other Central Albertans also dealing with this autoimmune disease, which can be due to genetic or environmental factors, or have no known cause, like in Eric’s case.
Some children with arthritis are just babies, three to six months old, said Ovalle.
She realized “there is no age” range for the onset of this condition — but that hope and help are available.
Eric, who’s now nine, doesn’t need a wheelchair anymore, except during rare flare-ups. His juvenile arthritis is managed through weekly treatments of methotrexate and bi-weekly doses of the anti-inflammatory Humira.
The family has found positives. Ovalle said Eric is getting back into swimming, and hopes to try skating again next winter.
“We realized we are not alone, and that helps a lot,” said Ovalle, who’s also pleased with the support Eric is receiving from classmates and teachers at Holy Family School. Even during his worse days, Eric could be seen smiling with friends, she added.
“He is a wonderful boy with a big heart. He is the strongest boy I ever met.”
To raise more awareness of juvenile arthritis, Ovalle is organizing Red Deer’s first Walk to Fight Arthritis event.
On Sunday, June 4, walkers will start out at 11 a.m. from the Kiwanis Picnic Area at Great Chief Park, next to Bower Ponds. There will be one-km and 5-km walk options, finishing with food and prizes.
For more information, or to register, please call 1-800-321-1433, or visit walktofightarthritis.ca.