Age-old problem

Age-old problem Photo: Tanya Lake

Arthritis is usually associated with the pain of growing old. But Courtney Ibrahim was just eight months old when diagnosed with a rare form of the disease.

Struck down with Still's Disease, which affects one in 10,000 children, almost every joint in her body swelled up. She could hardly move.

Her mother, Renee, said Courtney suffered recurrent high fevers and a salmon-coloured rash that would come and go over her legs and torso.

Fearing meningococcal, Courtney was kept in isolation for 14 days until doctors at the Sydney Children's Hospital at Randwick eventually diagnosed the disease, which makes up about 10-20 per cent of juvenile arthritis cases.

"We were devastated. I'd always thought of arthritis as something elderly people got," Mrs Ibrahim said.

In considerable pain, Courtney was treated with the long-term chemotherapy drug Methotrexate. At age 2, she had cortisone (steroid) injections into every joint.

"A week later, she stood up for the first time and a week after that she began walking," Mrs Ibrahim said.

Courtney's doctor, John Ziegler, the hospital's head of immunology and infectious diseases, said the cause of Still's Disease was unknown. There is no cure and most children grow out of it at puberty.

Courtney was treated with drugs called biologic agents, which prevent joint damage. She will remain on chemotherapy for 18 months but Associate Professor Ziegler said her outlook was excellent.

Mrs Ibrahim said Courtney, 8, played soccer and was the fastest runner in her grade. "Now she runs around so much you'd never suspect she was so sick."