January 14, 2019 4:21 pm
Updated: January 14, 2019 4:24 pm

‘A significant burden’: No replacement for only doctor in B.C. Interior who specializes in child arthritis

Six-year-old West Kelowna child Eden Ennis lives with Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), which is the most common type of arthritis in children. The immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s tissues.

Six-year-old West Kelowna child Eden Ennis lives with Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), which is the most common type of arthritis in children. The immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s tissues.

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The loss of the only doctor in the B.C. Interior who specializes in arthritis in children will pose a burden to more than 200 families, according to a B.C.-based national charity.

Dr. Kathy Gross, who was based at the Penticton Arthritis Clinic, retired last month with no replacement. She is working as a temporary locum until the end of February.

Cassie and Friends Society is an organization that supports kids and families affected by Juvenile Arthritis and other rheumatic diseases.

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Executive director Jennifer Wilson said families will be burdened with travelling to the Lower Mainland for specialized care.

READ MORE: What is juvenile arthritis?

“She serves families not only in the Penticton and Kelowna area but Kamloops, Vernon etc. so this is a considerable resource for families,” Wilson said. “Many of whom have a hard time even having an initial diagnosis for their child.”

Wilson said Gross has one more clinic planned “to ensure that her patients continue receiving the care and in hopes that a replacement can be named but as of this time, there is no replacement in place to properly transition with her,” Wilson added.

When contacted by phone, Gross said recruitment efforts are underway but finding someone qualified is a challenge.

“We have challenges finding pediatricians for our community let alone someone with the combination of pediatric rheumatology and general pediatrics, which is what I have and what we’ve been trying to replace,” she said.

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According to the organization, approximately 24,000 children in Canada, or every 3 in 1,000, have some form of arthritis or pediatric rheumatic disease, the most common being juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA).

READ MORE: ‘Team Cassie’ raises juvenile arthritis awareness at Vancouver half-marathon

“The families are looking at a significant burden to have to drive to BC Children’s [Hospital] in terms of cost, in terms of lost time at work, disruption for the children in missing school and also the safety of driving through winter months when you’re looking at making fairly regular trips,” Wilson said.

Six-year-old West Kelowna child Eden Ennis lives with JIA, a painful autoimmune disease that attacks her joints and eyes, leaves her fatigued and causes her to miss school.

This is due to the disease itself and the complex side effects of the treatments, including chemotherapy, used to fight the inflammation in her young body.

Cassie and Friends is launching a School Puppet program — a troupe of life-sized puppets — who will travel to the Okanagan on Jan. 21 for a weeklong tour of schools to spread awareness about JIA and what it means for kids like Eden.

READ MORE: B.C. girl first to receive medical support for expensive arthritis drug treatment

The organization will educate over 2,500 students, parents and educators in Penticton, Kelowna, West Kelowna, Oliver and Peachland about Juvenile Arthritis.

“Eden and our family already deal with some huge burdens like daily pain, medications and limitations caused by JIA,” says Eden’s mother, Christina Ennis. “A lack of information and understanding at school shouldn’t be one of them.”

A request has been made to the Interior Health Authority (IHA) for comment.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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