February 05, 2014 - At the tender age of 8, Dylan Andrews is at the beginning of a lifelong battle with psoriatic arthritis.
OES third-grader Dylan Andrews is bringing out the big guns for the March 8 Nerf War fund-raiser he's co-hosting to fight arthritis. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
But the Oxford Elementary third-grader isn't going to let this disease beat him.
In fact, he's declared war on arthritis and is heading into battle armed with his favorite Nerf gun and a whole bunch of foam darts.
Andrews is co-hosting a Nerf War fund-raiser on Saturday, March 8 at the 12,500-square-foot Stars & Stripes Activity Center (4630 White Lake Rd.) in Clarkston.
Andy Moy, a 15-year-old Waterford resident with juvenile psoriatic arthritis, is the other host.
"I love Nerf gun wars," said Dylan, who's favorite blaster is Nerf's Vulcan EBF-25. "It's so big and it holds so many bullets."
Proceeds will benefit Dylan's Army, one of the teams participating in Detroit's Walk to Cure Arthritis May 10 at the Detroit Zoo. The walk benefits The Arthritis Foundation, which supports research and advocacy.
It costs $15 per person to participate in the Nerf War. Ages 4 to adult are welcome.
Participants must bring their own Nerf blaster, orange-tipped (clip-style) darts and protective eyewear.
Call Stars & Stripes at (248) 625-3547 or visit on-line at http://bit.ly/1eJMnLg to register. Early registration is encouraged because this event has sold out fast in years past.
"We hope that people come out and support us," said Dylan's mother, Renee Andrews.
Dylan is afflicted with juvenile psoriatic arthritis, which occurs in association with psoriasis, an autoimmune disease that appears on the skin, often as red, scaly patches that itch and may bleed.
Juvenile psoriatic arthritis is a chronic disease that causes pain, stiffness and inflammation in the joints.
Dylan gets pain in his wrists, legs and back. "It's really bad pain," he said.
Although he's had a severe case of psoriasis since he was about a year old, Dylan wasn't diagnosed with arthritis until about a year ago.
"It rocked me," Renee said. "As much as I was expecting it, it was still really tough to hear. It's something that he'll have for the rest of his life."
Studies show that between 10 and 30 percent of people with psoriasis also develop psoriatic arthritis, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation.
Renee noted a person can have psoriasis "from head to toe" and not have arthritis.
Although it can develop at any time, psoriatic arthritis most commonly appears between the ages of 30 and 50.
Up to 20 percent of childhood arthritis cases are diagnosed as psoriatic arthritis, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation.
"Most people think that arthritis is something that older people get," Renee said. "You don't hear about it as much in kids."
The Arthritis Foundation reports that approximately 294,000 children under the age of 18 are afflicted with pediatric arthritis and rheumatologic conditions. Juvenile arthritis is one of the most common childhood diseases in the U.S.
"It's a silent thing," Renee said. "It's not something that's advertised. There's not a lot of funding for research."
To deal with his arthritis, Dylan is on a 24-hour pain medication that he must take three times each day. He also takes a form of oral chemotherapy on Friday and Saturday nights, and every eight weeks, he must travel to the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor for an intravenous therapy that lasts 4½ to 5 hours.
Dylan is on a total of nine medications to manage his various conditions and symptoms.
"I don't like taking all these medications," he said. "I have to take so many."
Renee noted there's a chance Dylan's arthritis could go into remission using drugs.
"It can go into a (state of) remission where you're not seeing the signs as much and you're not in pain," she said. "But it's not something that he'll ever be able to stop (taking) the medication for."
In addition to medications, he sometimes does stretching exercises to help loosen him up. "It depends on the day," Renee said. "Some mornings he's tighter than others."
Despite his condition, Dylan does his best to enjoy all the things that every other 8-year-old boy loves to do. "He doesn't want to not be like the other kids," Renee said. "He doesn't want to feel isolated."
But he has his limitations like when he went trick-or-treating with his friends for Halloween and they all ran from house to house.
"He kept up with them for about five or six houses and then he was hurting," Renee said. "He doesn't have the same endurance. He can do the same types of things (as other kids) just not for the same length of time."
Dylan said it bothers him that he can't play four square, a popular playground game at recess, because the repetitive motion of hitting the ball hurts his fingers.
Because the arthritis affects his wrists, Dylan can't write, draw or color for long periods of time. Fortunately, Renee said the school district is working to equip her son with voice recognition software that instantly turns a person's speech into text.
Weather conditions, like the subzero temperatures Michigan's been experiencing this winter, also affect Dylan's arthritis. "This weather has been a killer for him," Renee said. "He'll sit in a hot shower for 30 minutes."
Renee hopes that one day a cure for arthritis will be found not only to help Dylan, but so other children won't have to suffer through this disease.
"Kids should be kids. It's not right," she said.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.