Mass. youngster fights arthritis

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In this Sept. 28, 2011 photo, Melissa St. Laurent poses with her daughter Alexa Falcon, 8, in a park in Dighton, Mass. Alexis isn't the typical arthritis patient. But she is a typical 8-year-old. (AP Photo/Taunton Daily Gazette, Dave Demelia)

DIGHTON, Mass. (AP) — In many ways, Alexis Falcon is your typical 8-year old.

She loves drawing, swimming and playing outside with her older sister Taylor. She recently began participating in youth soccer in her hometown, Dighton.

One thing that sets apart the bright, cheerful young girl from her peers is a serious health condition. Alexis was diagnosed with arthritis when she was 3 years old. Right from birth, her mother Melissa St. Laurent knew there was something wrong. Alexis would sleep 15 hours a day and suffer from persistent migraine headaches and stomach pains.

Alexis' pediatrician told Melissa to change her formula but that did not alleviate the symptoms. Finally, the family consulted with Dr. Ali Tural of Tural Pediatrics in Fall River and he immediately suspected arthritis.

After a visit to a rheumatologist and a battery of blood tests, the diagnosis was confirmed. What is not known is whether Alexis suffers from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, a long-term autoimmune disorder that can affect the skin, joints, kidneys, brain, and other organs. Right now, physicians are taking a wait-and-see approach to dealing with her condition.

"Arthritis runs in my family," Melissa said. "My aunt has it, my mother has it and my father's brother has it. It's pretty much every avenue. It was inevitable that someone was going to get it."

Fortunately, the symptoms come in spurts and Alexis currently does not have any restrictions on her activities. When she is feeling ill, she is forced to rest and take ibuprofen for the pain. "When the kids are outside playing sometimes I'm inside sleeping," Alexis said. "That makes me feel sad."

Because of her daughter's condition, Melissa became involved with the Arthritis Foundation. Last year, they participated in the Southeastern Massachusetts Arthritis Walk. Alexis wasn't sure if she would be able to finish, but she completed the one-mile walk. Despite getting a late start, "Team Alexis" raised $200 in 2010.

With a little more time to organize this year, Melissa has come up with a number of fundraising endeavors. Alexis, Melissa and Taylor went door-to-door selling lollipops and raised $100 in one day. This past weekend, they held a spaghetti dinner and sold close to 200 tickets.

Now, they are gearing up for the 2011 Southeastern Massachusetts Arthritis Walk for which Alexis has been named the Youth Ambassador. She is very excited about getting to wear a tiara and a sash for the event.

"I am so excited," Alexis said. "I get to give a speech, too."

The event takes place on Sunday, Oct. 23, at Bristol Community College from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Participants have the option of completing one or three mile walks. Those physically unable to walk can remain at the BCC campus for food, entertainment, children's activities and raffles. There will also be a zumba demonstration.

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