BOONVILLE, Ind. (AP) — Brooke Allen was an active athlete playing several sports and living life as a carefree 11-year-old when she noticed she couldn't grip a ball.
Then she got the life-changing diagnosis — juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
It all started in January 2012. The Boonville girl was playing in a softball tournament and knew something wasn't right. A visit soon after to an orthopedic surgeon told Brooke and mom Carolyn Allen that the girl's problem was a trigger thumb and that a quick "in and out" surgery would fix the problem.
Trigger thumb, or finger, is also known as stenosing tenosynovitis, where a finger or thumb gets stuck in a bent position and straightens with a snap.
Brooke missed out on basketball that year, something she joked hurt worse than any arthritis she's had since, but healed quickly from the surgery and went through several physical therapy sessions.
But none of it helped. Brooke returned to the surgeon. An MRI showed overgrowth of the bone.
"When the doctor was reading us the results he was very blunt, saying there was nothing he could do," Carolyn told the Evansville Courier & Press (http://bit.ly/1fQaPhy ). "He told me I would need to take her somewhere else. Then he whispered, 'Straight to Riley.' Arthritis was the last thing you expect with someone as young and active as she was."
Carolyn said she tried to keep it together on that drive home but said it was a challenge — she was terrified. A week later, in October 2012, they went to Riley Children's Hospital, where Brooke received her arthritis diagnosis.
She's never let it stop her. Yes, she has to change the way she does things and Brooke says she still hurts, sometimes a lot. But Brooke is still a multisport athlete and a good student, now a seventh-grader at Boonville Middle School.
"Sometimes people think it is just a sore hand," Brooke said. "It's not just that; it's sore everywhere. But I still want to, and can, do softball, basketball and really anything. Just because you have this disease doesn't mean you can't do normal stuff."
Carolyn said she knows people have a hard time understanding how Brooke can still do all that she does, even with the disease. In addition to her drive, she takes a lengthy list of medications. But the medicines are pretty strong stuff. One of the treatments is a form of chemotherapy, and she takes two injections a week, Carolyn said.
"She's phenomenally strong," she said. "Brooke is so strong-willed. But she's still like an 85-year-old lady getting out of bed. Once she gets going, though, she is good to go. She deals with aches and pains still — the humidity and weather really play a factor."
Brooke described the feeling as a squeezing pinch on her joints.
"People look at her, and she looks picture perfect, like a healthy kid," Carolyn said. "But she still struggles with many things."
Adaptations help her at school. She uses foam holders for her pencils to make them thicker and easier to grip, and she has a device that allows her to type instead of write.
And in her sports, Brooke has made adaptations as well. She learned how to bat left-handed and wears special occupational gloves.
Right now there is no cure for juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and it's something Brooke won't outgrow. But she and her family continue to fight for a cure by supporting the Arthritis Foundation. Soon after her diagnosis, the Allens and a number of family and friends participated in the foundation's annual Jingle Bell Run — Dec. 14 this year.
Carolyn said getting to know the folks at the foundation has connected them to several resources, as well as other young girls with the disease.
"She's matured quite a bit through this whole thing," she said of Brooke. "She has to be a lot more in tune with her body than most kids."
Carolyn said she wants more parents to be aware of juvenile arthritis, saying she, like many other parents, dismissed some of the early signs of persistent aches and pains as being growing pains.
Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, http://www.courierpress.com