By Sarah Kuper
Creative and determined – those are the words Meg Wallace uses to describe her 11-year-old son, Cooper, who suffers from juvenile idiopathic arthritis.
Cooper is this year’s youth honoree for the Arthritis Foundation’s Jingle Bell Run.
In addition to being well-spoken and intelligent, Cooper is an accomplished writer and storyteller – skills that recommend him as an ambassador to people who aren’t familiar with his condition.
“It is a little overwhelming. I didn’t really expect to do much, but then you think, ‘Wow. This could really mean a lot,’” Cooper said.
Cooper was diagnosed when he was five years old. Wallace noticed he was having difficulty moving and he began having persistent high fevers.
Since then, Cooper has experienced countless injections, IV transfusions and MRIs. He’s been on many medications, and he participates in strength training at the Lakeshore Foundation Aquatic Center.
He has pain walking and doing everyday tasks. He tried playing violin but was disappointed when it proved to be too painful for his joints.
Wallace said that, if it weren’t for relatively new treatments, he might be wheelchair-bound.
“If we didn’t have the medication we have now, the disease would be more noticeable because kids would be in wheelchairs,” she said.
But people at Cooper’s school, Advent Episcopal, and his family encourage his writing. He already has had one of his poems published in Cricket, a major children’s literary magazine.
One of the frustrating things about JIA, Wallace said, is that it seems kids like Cooper should be able to do some of the rudimentary things that they can’t do.
Handwriting is extremely difficult for Cooper, but thanks to laptops in his school classroom, he is able to adapt.
Wallace said Cooper tries to stay positive, but he sometimes can’t escape the physical and emotional pain of JIA.
“When he is having a hard time doing something, he gets overwhelmed and we have to reset. He has a lot of frustration over not being able to do sports like other kids, but he is going to be great at things like debate,” she said.
Wallace said Cooper’s involvement with the Arthritis Foundation has given him some perspective and helped him mature when dealing with JIA.
According to the CDC, 300,000 children in the country have juvenile arthritis, and 5,000 of them live in Alabama.
The Arthritis Foundation’s Jingle Bell Run is one of the biggest fundraisers for the non-profit, and Wallace said her family will raise every penny it can.
“It’s important to me because there is a cap on how long these medications are effective. Kids will not outgrow this and so they are looking at being on some kind of medication for a lifetime,” she said, “We want to encourage new research, keep new medications coming out.”
Cooper said he knows how much it would mean to kids like him to have a successful event.
“People with arthritis would really appreciate the support because so many people don’t understand what it is like,” he said.
Cooper and his fundraising team, “Cooper’s Troopers,” are trying to raise $8,000.
The 5k Jingle Bell Run is Dec. 9 at Railroad Park. Participants are encouraged to wear festive attire and even incorporate jingle bells into their ensemble.
To register, visit arthritis.org/getinvolved and search “Cooper’s Troopers” to join his team.
For more information on juvenile arthritis, visit kidsgetarthritistoo.org.