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Harriet Edwards' story - JIA

Harriet Edwards was inspired to become a hospital doctor after all the treatment she received for her arthritisFor as long as Harriet Edwards can remember, she's been attending doctors' appointments.

She was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) at the age of five and her experiences have inspired her to become a doctor in a large London hospital.

'I love being a doctor'

Despite enduring a lot of pain and discomfort over a number of years and undergoing different treatments, Harriet, 25, qualified as a doctor last year after studying at King's College London.

Harriet, who's originally from East Yorkshire and now lives in south London, said: “I absolutely love being a doctor.  

“At first, I really struggled with the rigidity and the daily structure of getting up early, going to work and coming home late.

“But I've now got used to the discipline. Being really busy does actually help when I'm not feeling on top form because I don’t have time to think about it too much."

Harriet was made to feel at home in a hospital from a young age. She said: “I think growing up and spending so much time in hospitals made it all feel normal.

“Everyone was lovely, and the nurses were so kind."I want to treat people as I've been treated."

"Sometimes at home it felt a bit like I had a problem, but when I went to hospital there were other children in a similar situation to me, which instantly made me feel better.

“All these reasons made me want to be a doctor and treat people as I'd been treated.”

Persistence

It hasn't been an easy journey for Harriet to reach her dream of becoming a doctor, but she says her attitude, learnt from her parents, has helped her.

“I persisted through university. I'm very stubborn, not often taking no for an answer. Now I love my job, despite working long hours,” she said.

“My shift pattern sees me work 12 straight days, and frequent night shifts.

“Working in a hospital means I'm around a lot of viruses and I do catch them often because I'm on immunosuppressive drugs.”

Harriet was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis by a paediatric rheumatologist after lumps were found on her wrists.

It rapidly affected all her large joints, particularly her knees and wrists, and she began having hydrotherapy sessions three times a week and needed regular joint aspirations.

“As a baby I cried all the time and, looking back at pictures, my knees were enormous and my elbows were fat,” she said.

Every patient is different

Getting older, Harriet managed with a lot of help from school and her family. She had 18 months of remission in her early teens, but sadly the arthritis returned, worsening when she went to university.

Harriet has this advice for other young people with arthritis: “If you're having a bad time with your arthritis and feel like you can’t get out of bed, then don’t.

“The next day it might be a little easier, and you'll be a little stronger.

“Sometimes it's horrid to miss out on social events, not be able to have a drink or keep up with the sports team, but things change.”

Trying different drugs

As an adult Harriet has been looked after by an Arthritis Research UK professor at Guy’s Hospital, London.

Due to the hospital's location, she's been very fortunate to try most of the anti-TNF drugs. She's taken part in research ‘to try to improve medications for myself and others in my position’, as she puts it."Don't ever just sit at home and suffer."

Harriet said: “Every patient is so different and everyone needs different treatments. I tried eight biological therapies without success, and it's been an older drug called leflunomide which is currently working the best. It's a case of trial and error.

"And don’t ever just sit at home and suffer. Be persistent; don’t settle for something if it's not doing the trick.

"There's stuff out there that works well. You just have to push for it and try it."

Fundraising

Despite Harriet's busy schedule, she's finding time to train for the London Marathon. She'll take her place on the starting line in April to raise money for Arthritis Research UK."If I can represent the charity, I'd be truly honoured."

Harriet said: “I first started raising money for Arthritis Research UK when I was little, selling perfume and bubble bath made from flowers!

Harriet's following in her two sisters' footsteps. They've raised thousands of pounds for Arthritis Research UK over the years by taking part in the Great North Run.

She said: “My sisters have done amazing fundraising, putting themselves through marathons.

“That’s why, and with my recent experience the advances that Arthritis Research has made, I’d like to attempt the London Marathon myself, despite my knees telling me not to.

“This will be an enormous challenge for me. I've not really exercised in many years.

“But if I can raise money and represent the charity as a young arthritis sufferer, I'd be truly honoured.”

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