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|Gabriella Kolev is our kind, funny, and beautiful daughter who has been through more than most 9 year olds we know, and more than any child should have to experience at such a young age.|
Gabriella was at her happy place at sleep away camp when she developed both wrist and ankle pain. She was not sure what was happening, but was determined with the spirit she always demonstrates to push through the pain. Unfortunately, two days after she came home, the joints in her wrist were stiff, and her ankle and knee swelled dramatically. Our vivacious little girl couldnít walk, and was crying out in pain. After a visit to the Orthopedist and additional x-rays, we were shocked to hear that the images confirmed that there was damage to her joints, which proved to be consistent with arthritis.
Fortunately we were led to the brilliant Pediatric Rheumatologist Dr. Lisa Imundo at Columbia Hospital in New York City. After a through evaluation, countless blood tests and more x-rays, our sweet Gabriella was diagnosed with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, a condition which affects more than 300,000 children in the US. Needless to say this was shocking to our family, and especially hard on Gabriella who had been diagnosed with Celiac Disease only 6 months earlier. Despite all this, Gabriella was determined to continue doing the activities that other children her age were doing. She threw herself into Physical Therapy exercises twice daily often waking up very early to ensure that they were done before school. With the physical therapy, and painful weekly injections of medicine, this regiment has slowed the disease down. Gabriella was able to join the downhill ski race team, and actively participate in school activities.
In March of 2016, we were invited to attend the Arthritis Foundation Advocacy event in Washington D.C. This experience was amazing for Gabriella. She had the opportunity to meet other children who have JIA, and attend child friendly sessions to learn how to advocate for herself. She had the opportunity to meet Senator Chris Murphy and representatives from Congressman Jim Himes and Senator Blumenthalís office.
At these meetings she wanted to clearly define the challenges that arthritis sufferers, especially children deal with on a daily basis. She shared, that one of challenges we deal with as a family is ensuring that Gabriella is provided with continued coverage from our insurance company for continued weekly Physical therapy sessions.
The last year has been a profound experience for her, learning to live with her conditions, maintaining her joy of life and just being able to be a kid. We are extremely grateful to the Arthritis Foundation for giving Gabriella this platform to advocate for other children who may not have the opportunity to speak up for themselves.
As her family, we are so proud of Gabriella for working hard to overcome her challenges and hope to inspire other children to advocate for themselves and overcome arthritis.