Written by Chris Pence
Upon hearing Polyarticular Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis one may rush to google the term, as I was tempted to see what the likes of WebMD would have to say. However, to do so would put the emphasis on the effect rather than the affected as this story is more concerned with the latter and not the former. This story wants to hear from the person behind that condition. That person is Randolph-Macon Field Hockey’s Kristina Staley from North Beach, Maryland.
Formally diagnosed in March of 2015, Kristina, as is common in the Internet age, first began to self-diagnose herself.
“It started in my fingers, they would swell up like sausages, and I thought maybe I have arthritis,” she recalled with a slight laugh. Funny, because many associate arthritis only with seniors who have trouble getting out of bed. Although, according to the Arthritis Foundation, nearly 300,000 U.S. children—from infants to teenagers—have some form of arthritis. Idiopathic, meaning “of unknown origin”, Staley’s form of arthritis is often attributed to a genetic link but she is the only person in her family to be diagnosed.
Clearly seeming to be in good spirits; with her feet adorned in wacky, watermelon crew socks and Birkenstocks, Kristina says she’s doing very well now in her current treatment but recalled hard times in the beginning.
“I would wake up in the morning and it would be really bad; my mother would have to dress me, brush my hair and teeth; not just because of the pain but I physically couldn’t move my hands with the amount of swelling.” Polyarticular meaning inflammation in more than five joints, Staley described her wrists usually bearing the brunt of the swelling and pain. On top of that her body reacts to the condition with fever-like symptoms, fatigue, even hives. Ultimately it forced her to stop playing softball in high school, a sport she played constantly and in which she had college aspirations. On the other hand, it led her to taking field hockey more seriously, having only begun playing in eighth grade. With softball having too intense of an impact, especially on her wrist joints, Kristina was able to play field hockey under much less stress.
That’s how Kristina likes to view her condition. “It made me find the sport I love, whereas I used to be so focused on softball, now I love playing field hockey and it makes me work hard.”
In terms of her actual prognosis, her condition can never be cured. It’s about finding the right mixture of medications that keep her in remission longest. Ironically, her best medicine may be field hockey itself, as her doctor encourages the low impact activity to help keep her joints loose.
The diagnosis at first was “a shock” to Kristina, she added, “it was a hard thing to figure out and the hardest part was not being able to do things for yourself.” Now her days seem to serve as a microcosm for her overall condition from diagnosis up until now. It’s hard waking up but it gets better and better as the day goes on.
The condition has given Kristina good perspective on her health as a young adult. “Obviously there are much worse things to have, but it made me realize how lucky I am to have my health and be able to play the sport that I love.”
Kristina is a forward on the Randolph-Macon Field Hockey team and as a freshman has only just begun to think about a major in Sociology, but can envision a future working with children in hospitals. The Yellow Jackets are currently finishing a stretch of conference home games; their next match is Friday, October 14 against Mary Washington at 7 p.m. on Day Field.