Feature Story | 12-Jul-2023

Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month — 10-Year-Old Johns Hopkins Children’s Center patient’s journey living with juvenile arthritis

Bryce Lampe first tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, which began a monthslong journey for answers that ultimately led to a surprising diagnosis

Johns Hopkins Medicine

In December 2021, 9-year-old Bryce Lampe of Edgewater, Maryland, began experiencing serious symptoms — a fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and body aches so intense he could barely move, causing him to sleep like a corpse, recalls his mother, Alexandra. As the days went by, his symptoms showed no signs of improvement, leading to a trip to the emergency room. That night, Bryce tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, which began a monthslong journey for answers that ultimately led to a surprising diagnosis: systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis (sJIA). 

Bryce was first diagnosed with multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) — a rare and life-threatening condition, caused by a prior infection with the COVID-19 virus, that causes fever and inflammation of major organs. Despite treatment, his condition and the pain worsened, which at times left him unable to walk. During an appointment in March 2022 with Johns Hopkins Children’s Center rheumatologist Julia Shalen, Bryce pointed out the pain specifically in his joints. Shalen diagnosed him with systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis (sJIA), a form of arthritis in children that causes fever, rash, and joint swelling and stiffness.

“The doctor said he had arthritis, and I thought, what 9-year-old has arthritis?” Bryce’s mother remembers. But Bryce is not alone.

A type of juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), sJIA is a chronic illness that causes body wide inflammation, and it can be very dangerous if untreated. It is an autoimmune disease, which means the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy cells and tissues. JIA affects nearly 300,000 young children and teens in the United States. The exact cause is unknown, but researchers believe it is a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental triggers such as viral or bacterial infections.

“Systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis can be a tough disease to recognize,” says Shalen. “Children are often first diagnosed with a viral or bacterial infection, or other inflammatory diseases like MIS-C or Kawasaki disease, since they have similar initial symptoms. Then, when the condition doesn’t follow an expected course for those diseases, we learn it is actually sJIA.” 

As soon as Bryce was diagnosed with sJIA and he started taking medication — a monthly shot administered at home — his condition turned around quickly, and his pain and the inflammation were gone. Now, he is an active 10-year-old boy who plays travel baseball and basketball.

“We are thankful for Johns Hopkins Children’s Center for helping us find answers and effective treatment in assisting Bryce to overcome this disease,” Alexandra Lampe says. 

Bryce, his mother and Shalen are available for interviews.

July is Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness about this condition affecting children.

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