Shepherd's remarkable story first appeared in The New York Times several years ago. Shepherd was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis at age 3. He had trouble walking and difficulty getting out of bed. Doctors told him he would always be sick. Now age 8, Shepherd has completely healed from his arthritis. He is a happy, healthy, pain-free boy!
The following story was originally published in The New York Times by Shepherd's mother, journalist Susannah Meadows. You can read the full story here.
Soccer lessons that didn't go well
Shepherd and his 3-year old twin brother, Beau, were both excited for their first soccer lessons. But before long, the excitement turned to tears for Shepherd. While Beau was running around enjoying "soccer school" Shepherd seemed lost, exhausted, and just wanted to sit on his mom's lap. At their second lesson, Shepherd burst into tears the moment he started to run.
Something was wrong.
An X-ray showed no injury. Then a doctor suggested arthritis was most likely the issue. While alarming news to hear about a 3-year-old, it did seem to explain Shepherd's continued physical decline. He was spending more and more time on the couch. He walked stiff-legged. He had trouble getting out of bed.
A month later, he received an official diagnoses: juvenile idiopathic arthritis (J.I.A.), an autoimmune disease that causes painful swelling in the joints. J.I.A. can lead to stunted growth, disability, and rarely, blindness.
Time for treatment
Shepherd began taking an anti-inflammatory medication called naproxen. The arthritis kept spreading. Next his doctor switched him to a new medication. But the list of serious side effects was terrifying to his mother. She had been told Shepherd was unlikely to ever outgrow his condition. So did that mean medications for life? What would this drug do long-term to a 3-year-old?
Seeking an alternative
Through a family connection, Shepherd's mom was introduced to a woman who had put her son's arthritis into remission with alternative therapy. They got on the phone and shared stories. Shepherd's mom quickly put pen to paper and took notes.
Dietary changes. Supplements. A combination of ibuprofen and Tylenol. A Chinese concoction called four-marvels powder. The woman said it had taken six weeks to start working for her son.
A mix of both
Shepherd's parents and doctors agreed to try the alternative regimen while maintaining the current levels of medication. If the approach didn't work after six weeks, they would increase the medication dosage.
At six weeks - to the day - Shepherd woke up, and for the first time in months, got out of bed himself. "Mommy," he said, "my knees don't hurt anymore." Within several months his arthritis pain was gone.
Shepherd was weaned off the medication entirely. He was finally able to initiate running races. He did his version of karate. And he caught up in height with his brother, after falling behind while sick. Another side effect of the medication also disappeared - he no longer got sick twice as often as his twin.
Shepherd had five flare-ups his first year in remission. Two of them followed courses of antibiotics. The other three came on the heels of accidentally eating gluten. He had a chocolate-chip cookie, a couple bites of toast, less than a quarter of a sandwich on sourdough. Each time, he felt pain within 24 hours, and it lasted as long as two weeks.
Shepherd's doctor examined him the following year and found that he had no active arthritis. That night when his mom kissed Shepherd good night, she told him to give her five. “For the no arthritis?” he asked. She nodded, holding out her hand. He slapped her palm again and again, over and over. It sounded like clapping.
- Juvenile idiopathic arthritis
What Shepherd Was Like:
Shepherd's first signs of sickness were that he tired easily and occasionally walked with a limp. As his arthritis progressed, he had trouble getting out of bed. He was nauseated and could barely eat for two days after taking his weekly pills. He spent entire afternoons on his mother's lap. He started using a stroller again. He we went to physical therapy, occupational therapy or a doctor’s appointment almost daily.
Today Shepherd's parents report that “the old Shepherd” is back, the goofball with the high-beam smile. He initiates running races — and isn’t always the most gracious when he wins. He improvises what he thinks is karate. He pirouettes. He even has more energy than his brother. Shepherd is healed.