Ambassador Highlight: Meet Willa
One, she wants to be a veterinarian and save all animals. Two, her favorite activities are singing in the school chorus, playing with her pets and playing ‘Let’s Dance’ on the Nintendo Wii. Three, she was diagnosed with Polyarticular Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis when she was 18 months old, and arthritis is not just an “old people” disease.
When Willa had her first major flare-up, she had a hard time walking or playing. Her doctor at Nemours Children’s Specialty Care in Jacksonville referred her to Melissa Elder, M.D., Ph.D., a pediatric rheumatologist at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital.
“My reaction to learning Willa’s diagnosis was, ‘Kids get arthritis? I better do some research!’” recalls Willa mother, Jessica.
For Willa and her family, they have placed their complete trust in UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital.
“The level of care is exceptional,” Jessica said. “And the fact that there is state-of-the-art technology and plenty of activities in a fun environment truly help ease the anxiety of receiving an infusion.”
Willa’s diagnosis has influenced her day-to-day life by empowering her to be her own advocate.
“She has really come out of her shell. She will tell people about arthritis and how it affects her and other kids,” Jessica said.
More than eight years after her diagnosis, Willa is experiencing life like many children her age thanks to the treatment and care teams at UF Health. She receives infusions and undergoes physical therapy, while also taking injections at home.
She has attended Camp Boggy Creek, a camp where children with serious illnesses and their families experience the spirit and friendships that happen at camp. Her favorite memories are making friends at camp with kids who have a diagnosis just like her.
Interested in learning more about our CMN Ambassador Program? Visit giving.UFHealth.org/ambassadors.
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