2020 National Youth Honorees
Conner, Ryan and Brayden Sowa
The Sowa family’s journey with arthritis started years ago when Ryan, the middle brother, began experiencing fevers, rashes and joint pain. After a lot of testing and misdiagnoses, a rheumatologist finally diagnosed him with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). Tears ran down Ryan’s face when he heard, “No contact sports.” He wanted to be out there playing football like all the other kids. Six years later, he still hasn’t found the right medication to minimize his symptoms.
Brayden, the youngest, was just 2 when he started having sleepless nights, lying there crying. He tried to run and play, but all he could do was walk with a limp. Three months after Ryan’s diagnosis, Brayden was diagnosed with childhood arthritis, too.
Conner, the oldest, got the same diagnosis a couple months after Brayden. His shoulders would dislocate, and his knees and ankles became weaker and more painful. He has had 13 major surgeries for breaks in the cartilage of both knees and ankles. Two summers ago, his ankles were rebuilt, and the doctor injected stem cells into both ankles and knees. More surgery is on the horizon.
Combined, the trio has had more specialists than their parents can count. Each of the boys consumes a plethora of costly medications and must have their blood drawn and checked to ensure the meds don’t cause organ damage.
Despite everything, the boys are tough. They love spending time outdoors and cherish family time. They’ve raised funds for many years for the Grand Rapids Walk to Cure Arthritis, spoken at galas and participated in several other Arthritis Foundation opportunities. It will always be Team Sowa’s mission to educate and fight for a cure.