When 16-year-old Lauren Little came home from Edmonds-Woodway High School with a 103-degree fever, her mom JoAnne thought she had the flu.
But it got worse. The fever would spike and abate, her muscles felt increasingly sore, and within a week she couldn’t walk.
Her parents took her to Children’s’ Hospital, where doctors ran a battery of test. The verdict? Juvenile systemic arthritis, a crippling auto-immune disease that affects an estimated 300,000 young people in the United States, 6000 in Washington State alone.
“It rocked our world,” said JoAnne. “All of a sudden our everyday life was turned upside down.”
In the beginning it meant bi-weekly trips to Children’s Hospital for infusion treatments, occasional flare-ups, and days when she just didn’t feel well enough to move. Despite this, Lauren was able to keep up with her schoolwork and be part of the Edmonds-Woodway Cheer Team.
Then in October 2014 her fellow students rallied to her support, choosing to honor her by raising money for the Arthritis Foundation as the Homecoming Week “Charity Change” recipient. This brought Lauren into contact with the Foundation and its activities, one of which is the annual the Jingle Bell Run, a mainstay fundraising event for the Arthritis Foundation since the early 1980s.
With the help of family, fellow students and friends, Lauren took up the challenge to raise funds and support a Jingle Bell Run team. She set a goal of $1,000 and 30 participants, but by race day had assembled a team of 45 and raised more than $8,000, putting her in the top three fund-raisers.
Taking the name Lauren’s Little Snowflakes, the team got right into the spirit of the run, dressing in frilly tutus, some even pirouetting along the race course.
Her success last year caused her to be named a Youth Honoree for the 2015 Jingle Bell Run. This has led to several articles, appearances and interviews, where by telling her story she raises awareness of Juvenile Systemic Arthritis and connects her personal journey with the event.
And yes, Lauren’s Little Snowflakes will be back again this year for the 2015 Jingle Bell Run on December 18. With the event still four weeks away she has already assembled 60 team members, surpassing her goal of 50. She hopes to raise $10,000 this year to help search for a cure.
But until a cure is found, Lauren and others with arthritis do their best to keep the condition at bay. Today Lauren’s arthritis is in remission, and when you meet her it’s hard to not believe that her upbeat attitude, infectious smile and ready laugh is what keeps it there.
“No one wants to be sick,” she says with smile, “but my arthritis has opened up things to me that never would have happened otherwise. I’ve met so many people, and most importantly I’ve met and been able to share experiences with other kids who have this condition.”
Will there be a cure? ” I’m a big optimist,” she says. “Sure it’s coming. And the money we raise for the Jingle Bell Run will help make it happen sooner.”
Want to help support Lauren? Go to the Seattle Jingle Bell Run website, click on Lauren’s name, and sign up to support the Snowflakes by running, walking, or pledging your support.
— By Larry Vogel