Story Details

It's predicted that, within the next 30 years, one in every four Australians will be crippled by arthritis, that's more than 7-million people.

It already costs the country tens of billions of dollars a year and if you think it only affects only the elderly, think again.

Tonight, proof this painful illness shows no mercy to our young. But some of the new treatments being used are turning the tide.

He's the young face of Australia's most crippling and complained about disease, 11 year old George has chronic arthritis.

Mary: "knowing that if affects old people. It blew us away when they told us our son had arthritis at the age of 2-and a half"

David: "how much pain is he in day today?”

Mary: "that's the problem with arthritis day to day it is different. yesterday he couldn't walk , he was crying and I had to carry him out of bed. he was like an old man. the day before he was up and about. and there was no issue at all"

No one knew he had it until he was due to walk, George couldn't even stand, and he didn't take his first steps until he was 5, his childhood robbed by arthritis...

Mary: "I have to dress him because he's unable to do his shoelaces, his buttons ion his shirt and then he's off to school and 9 times out of 10 I get a phone call during the day saying Mary you need to come and pick George up. he's in excruciating pain.")

David: "so when you wake up where does it hurt?”
George: “in my chest. in my legs, in my arms and in my back"

John: "you'd never want to see your kids go through, you'd like to take the pain away from them but you cannot, not with this"

Mary: "scares the living daylights out of me, I'm sorry (crying)… The hardest bit is to adjust to the fact that there are limitations"

The morning ritual is spray pain relief rubbed into his aching joints. But once a week Mum Mary dresses in full surgical garb, George is due his weekly injection, his father John holds him still. Part of a new treatment to stop his joints blowing up and causing incessant pain...

This injection is a form of chemotherapy, a cancer drug, methatrexate. Besides easing the pain it is saving his eyesight which is rapidly weakening but it has side effects.

Mary: "liver and kidney failure, blood disorders, it's frightening and George has been on methatrexate for 7 years”

John: “the severity of our son going blind. that's the hardest thing to adjust to. I don't think we can adjust to that"

David” “is that the long term prognosis that he could go blind?”

Mary: "at the rate the arthritis is affecting his eyes, more than likely George will be blind by the age of 16"

Every few weeks George is examined by the paediatrician Doctor Con James, who first identified his rare condition.

Right now the big worry is keeping George's joints moving...

Dr. James: "George needs his joints for 70 or 80 years, a 70 year old who gets arthritis needs it maybe 10 or 15 years and can have a hip replacement or something else.

David: “what do you do with George?”

Dr James: “you have to preserve George’s joints in the best condition you can"

"for the diseases in which we don't have the cause it's generally speaking we don't have the cure, but what we do have now is in the majority of cases effective treatments to dampen down pain and decrease inflammation," says Professor Schrieber.

Rheumatologist Professor Les Schrieber describes the two most common forms of arthritis, out of more than 150.

"in people with osteo-arthritis we find that the cartilage degenerates faster than the bodty is able to repair it, so you lose the cartilage, so you lose the shock absorber," he says.

"Rheumatoid typically affects the small joints of the hands, like these ones across the knuckle and those finger joints," he adds. "If it goes on for a long time and damage occurs which we hope to prevent these days, you tend to drive out in that direction".

For the first time in Arthritis treatment doctors believe they are winning.
Technology has created new treatments, anti-inflammatory called biologics made in a lab.

"These are genetically engineered molecules that have been built up in cell factories in the laboratory and they are very very targeted in terms of where their action is," said Professor Schrieber. "The catch is they are about 20-thousand dollars a year, and we're not talking about a cure. so they're an ongoing treatment".

On a good day George can ride his bike but those days are few and far between and getting fewer as he grows older. His parents have launched a charity to raise money for research to find a cure.

David: "will it ever be eliminated?”

Professor Schriebr: "I don't see that in the foreseeable future but never is a long time."

Mary: "I'm begging Australians to help my son George and the thousands of other children suffering from juvenile arthritis. we need your help"


Mary Kranitis
Mobile 0400 826 449