I met Molly Dodge about five years ago through this website. We used to chat on the phone.
One look at Abbie Dodge’s smiling face, framed with ringlets of wavy brown hair, and one would never guess the North Naples youngster has struggled with a little known childhood illness.
The first symptom began in 2006, when Abbie would awaken in the middle of the night with terrible leg pains. Her mother, Molly Dodge, thought Abbie might be having growing pains, but when the girl’s face grew pale and her movements stiff, she became alarmed. By the time Abbie was rushed to an emergency clinic, Mollie says her daughter’s eyes had turned bright red.
Doctors could not agree on the problem, citing everything from allergies and stress to Kowasaki’s disease. Dodge’s head spun with frightening possibilities as her daughter’s condition worsened.
Abbie was rushed to Rochester’s Mayo Clinic. Within three days, doctors narrowed the diagnosis, but more tests were needed to confirm the problem. After two trips to Mayo’s St. Mary’s Hospital and countless tests, Abbie was finally diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, a disease that affects 300,000 children nationwide.
According to Barbara Carley, volunteer program director for The Florida Chapter of The Arthritis Foundation, JRA can start at birth; but after age 18, the condition is designated as adult rheumatoid arthritis.
“Many people are unaware that arthritis affects children,” she says. “They think of arthritis as an older person’s disease.”
In Florida alone, an estimated 10,000 children are affected by the condition, and the pain is intense.
“If you’ve ever broken an arm or sprained an ankle, that’s what JRA feels like all the time,” Carley says. “I’ve seen children in so much pain that nurses couldn’t touch them.”
After Abbie was released from St. Mary’s Hospital, she began treatments with a specialist at the Miami Children’s Hospital. Every two months, the family returns to the hospital for blood work and a check-up. Abbie has responded so well to the medication, that the doctor has been slowly cutting back on the dosage.
“Seventy-five percent of kids grow out of it,” Molly says. “We are praying that Abbie will be in that percentage.”
Molly says Abbie’s lack of ability to take part in physical activities affected the girl’s self-esteem, but she found encouraging therapy through her art.
“Abbie had boxes of drawings, and made up a couple of characters, so the idea kept nudging me,” she says of the concept of writing a book.
When Molly suggested the idea, Abbie quickly agreed, and they got to work.
“Abbie drew the illustrations; together, we decided what would be written on the pages,” Molly says.
The young artist threw herself, heart and soul, into the project.
“Drawing is Abbie’s passion, but it intensified as she became sicker,” Molly says. “The characters in her book became more active as Abbie became more physically inactive.”
Once completed, the images were scanned and sent to a publishing company. A year later, “Vally the Villo’s First Day Away” by Abigail Mary (a pen name) was ready to hit the shelves. The story outlines the life of Vally, a strange creature called a villo, and the young critter’s first venture into the outside world.
This year, Abbie began kindergarten at Veteran’s Memorial in North Naples, where her teachers, Lisa Heben and Kathy Morrow, immediately recognized her artistic skills.
As a newly published author, Abbie was invited to discuss her book on the school’s daily televised announcements.
In early March, she participated with several adult authors in a booksigning at Barnes & Noble in Naples. Several of her classmates showed up to support her efforts.
“We purchased copies to put in our classroom and in the school library,” said Morrow. “She autographed each one.”
Today, Abbie takes ballet lessons and swims, activities that are recommended for arthritis patients. She doesn’t participate in contact sports, since injuries can make arthritis worsen, but she enjoys school and continues with her artwork daily.
The combination of medical care and the sense of accomplishment from publishing a book have strengthened Abbie’s self-esteem, and, so far, her book has been a big hit. She’s sold 80 copies and carefully autographs each one. Molly says a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Arthritis Foundation to help raise awareness of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
When asked how it felt to hold her book in her hands, Abbie responded with the same enthusiasm as any author — child or adult. With a huge smile, she summed it up in one word. “Good!”
And for Abbie Dodge, feeling good is what it’s all about.
For more information on the book, go online to http://vallythevillo.com.