Lawrence Arthritis Walk's hero describes life with debilitating illness

Elaney Pickering, left, chats with her friend Hannah Novinger before the start of the Lawrence Arthritis Walk on Saturday, May 7, 2011, in South Park. Elaney was honored as a hero during the event, which raised about $10,000 for the Arthritis Foundation. Also in the picture is Elaney's dog named Justice.

Elaney Pickering, left, chats with her friend Hannah Novinger before the start of the Lawrence Arthritis Walk on Saturday, May 7, 2011, in South Park. Elaney was honored as a hero during the event, which raised about $10,000 for the Arthritis Foundation. Also in the picture is Elaney's dog named Justice. by Kevin Anderson

Sixteen-year-old Elaney Pickering was honored Saturday morning during the sixth annual Lawrence Arthritis Walk in South Park.

Elaney was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at age 8. The first symptom was a swollen finger that she couldn’t move. A few months later, she started hobbling on a swollen ankle.

Now the arthritis affects more than 20 joints, including her knees, hips and jaw. She takes medications to help ease the pain, including two injections a week.

“It hurts and it swells, and there are good days and there are bad days,” she said before participating in the walk.

Elaney, of Eudora, said the weather can affect the pain. She can tell when it’s going to rain because her fingers hurt.

On a bad day, it’s very difficult to move.

“Sometimes I cry because it hurts so bad and I have to sit down. There’s no more walking,” she said.

When she has to sit, she tries to distract herself from the pain by drawing, watching television or rubbing lotion on her aching ankles.

But on Saturday, Elaney was having a good day, and she was recognized as a hero at the Arthritis Walk, which drew about 100 participants. The walk raised about $10,000 for the Arthritis Foundation, and more importantly, it raised awareness that Elaney is not alone.

Arthritis is the most common cause of disability. It affects:

• One in three Americans.

• One in five dogs.

• 500,000 Kansans.

The Kansas University women's volleyball team lead the way during the Lawrence Arthritis Walk on Saturday, May 7, 2011. The walk started in South Park and headed down Massachusetts Street. The event raised awareness about arthritis and money for the Arthritis Foundation. About 100 people participated.

The Kansas University women's volleyball team lead the way during the Lawrence Arthritis Walk on Saturday, May 7, 2011. The walk started in South Park and headed down Massachusetts Street. The event raised awareness about arthritis and money for the Arthritis Foundation. About 100 people participated. by Kevin Anderson

Jane Harris, Lawrence, applauds honorees during the sixth annual Lawrence Arthritis Walk on Saturday, May 7, 2011, in South Park. Harris is co-chair of the event. She volunteers to help with the walk in memory of her mother, Ilene Harris, who had rheumatoid arthritis.

Jane Harris, Lawrence, applauds honorees during the sixth annual Lawrence Arthritis Walk on Saturday, May 7, 2011, in South Park. Harris is co-chair of the event. She volunteers to help with the walk in memory of her mother, Ilene Harris, who had rheumatoid arthritis. by Kevin Anderson

Dr. Richard Wendt, an orthopedic surgeon with OrthoKansas in Lawrence, attended the event.

He said arthritis will affect almost everyone to some degree during their lifetime.

Some people get arthritis from the wear-and-tear on their joints while others get it because of previous injuries. Then, there’s the more crippling kind, like rheumatoid, where the body attacks its own cartilage. There are more than 100 types of arthritis.

Wendt said there is no cure, but there’s treatment which ranges from medications to surgery. Exercise also helps.

“Movement of the joints and use of the joints nourishes them. If you sit, they are going to deteriorate more,” he said. “It’s better to wear it out than let it rust out.”

Elaney walks about three miles a day with her 4-year-old Dalmatian named Justice. He helps motivate her.

“He’s my partner,” she said. “He likes to pull me everywhere.”

Elaney also suffers from asthma, a heart defect, and scoliosis, a curving of the spine. She wears a back brace at night.

Her mother, Rebecca Pickering, said Elaney is her hero.

“She has been through the mill and she just keeps going,” she said. “I mean she perseveres through pain and she does amazing things. She does better than I do.”

Tagged: Lawrence Arthritis Walk, arthritis

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