Two years ago, Mia Brees, an active Boulder Creek first-grader at the time, went to the doctor for a sprained ankle that was not healing.
After several tests, doctors determined she had oligoarthritis — a form of juvenile arthritis that affects about 300,000 children nationwide.
Now, as the precocious 9-year-old enters fourth grade at Boulder Creek Elementary School, Brees has joints that stiffen and swell each day. If untreated, the arthritis could cause blindness and permanent joint damage.
“The goal for me is to avoid the permanent joint damage, and so far she doesn’t have any,” said Mia’s mother, Theresa Brees.
Every day, Mia takes medication to reduce the swelling and pain. And when she has flare-ups and the arthritis becomes too painful, she is injected with cortisone. In addition, Brees visits the eye doctor every three months to ensure that her vision remains strong.
“It might take her longer to get ready for school in the morning,” Theresa Brees said. “It comes and goes.”
One thing, however, is certain — Mia has caught the attention of the national Arthritis Foundation, which will honor her when its California Coast Classic Bicycle Tour rides through Santa Cruz County in September.
The ride is sponsored by Amgen, the same company that sponsors the annual Tour of California, as a fundraiser for The Arthritis Foundation, a national research and advocacy group dedicated to helping the victims of arthritis.
The eight-day, 525-mile ride begins Sept. 9 in San Francisco and ends in Los Angeles with daily rest stops.
Mia will be honored on the second leg of the race, from Santa Cruz to Monterey on Sept. 10. As the sole honoree for the leg, she will cheer the racers, take pictures, mingle with riders at the overnight stop, call out raffle ticket prizes and read trivia questions.
But Brees remains active, even though her mother said her condition sometimes slows her down. She loves to climb and swim, and last week attended Camp Milagros, a camp for arthritic children in Glen Ellen.
“I like to climb the ropes,” Mia Brees said. “I’m not afraid of heights.”
Swimming is also on her top list of things to do, too.
“She’s very active,” Theresa Brees said. “The new theory is that you should remain active. Swimming is one of the best things you can do.”
Theresa Brees said about 50 percent of children who suffer from juvenile arthritis have symptoms disappear as they age, but it’s not known why it happens, and it’s impossible to tell if pain will subside for Mia.
The mother plans to ride in with her sister, Cathy Brandt, on Sept. 15 and 16 in Southern California. Each rider must raise money to participate in the ride, and Theresa’s goal is $3,000.
To learn more about Mia, or to support fundraising for juvenile arthritis, visit www.2012CCCNCA.kintera.org/mia