Teen confronts polyarticular juvenile arthritis with an autoimmune disorder head on by living a healthy lifestyle.
Photo: Nicole Hamel
Olivia Howard, 16, of Grand Island, is upfront sharing what it feels like to have polyarticular juvenile arthritis with an autoimmune disorder, which affects the entire body: joints, skin and internal organs.
“It’s not the best feeling, especially as a child or teen,” says Olivia, who couldn’t walk when she was diagnosed at age 11. “I woke up one morning and was not even able to get to the bathroom. My mom had to carry me. Another time I was using a blanket to slide across the floor to get to the kitchen because my ankle and knee hurt so bad.”
The Villages High School junior whose favorite subject is health sciences remembers she learned early on the importance of following doctors’ orders.
“I learned the hard way. I stopped taking my oral medicine, weekly shots and my body and joints started to swell really bad again,” says Olivia. “I needed to go back to the hospital to see my rheumatologist and tell her I was not following the medication guidelines. I needed to go for my aspiration in the knee and ankle. Needless to say, that is not fun.”
Olivia stays active working a 30-hour week job, swimming and helping her mom, Kristine Howard, with household chores. Olivia also has done modeling, since age 8, which she loves.
“I try to find a positive side to bad news,” she says. “Having to take shots weekly is a pain, but it leads to making my joints feel good.”
Listening to music and helping others are additional ways the teen strives to maintain a positive attitude.
Olivia has been active as an advocate for the Arthritis Foundation, and she once raised $5,000 for the organization by hosting several fundraisers.
After she graduates high school in 2022, she aspires to go to college to become a registered nurse, with hopes of working in obstetrics and be involved in the labor and delivery of newborn babies.