A JA Family Thrives in a New Setting
A family move to New Mexico wasn’t an easy decision, but now Cohen is living his best life.
Today, 9-year-old Cohen is having the time of his life. He is “president” of the barn on the ranch where his family now lives in New Mexico. He takes care of 13 goats, five sheep and eight pigs. He loves playing dodgeball, playing with other kids on the ranch, especially his older friends, Kylie and Mikela, who understand what he deals with, and cheering on the Kansas City Chiefs.
“I love living here,” Cohen says. “I won’t ever leave because I don’t hurt here.”
Cohen has a rare type of arthritis called systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis (SJIA). To help improve Cohen’s SJIA, the Yoakum family decided to move from Ohio to New Mexico — for a better climate and a better environment. The change made a huge difference. Today, Cohen sees a pediatric rheumatologist every six months for a check-up and doesn’t have to take any medications. That’s a far cry from what he and his family had to endure most of his life.
Cohen was just 2 years old when “we knew something wasn’t right,” his mother says. He started vomiting and developed rashes and swelling in random areas of his body, accompanied by high fevers. The first joints affected were his ankles. Soon it spread to his fingers and elbows. Finally, Cohen was diagnosed with SJIA.
“It was really hard to walk and run,” Cohen remembers. “It felt like someone was smashing me. My legs stopped working, and I cried for my parents to help me. They took me to the hospital, and I was in a wheelchair. I didn’t like that. No one else was in a wheelchair besides grandmas and grandpas.”
To see your child in physical and emotional pain, and not being able to do anything about it, is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to go through.— Kensi Yoakum, JA mom Learn more about arthritis pain management.
“To see your child in physical and emotional pain, and not being able to do anything about it, is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to go through,” Kensi continues.
Moving to New Mexico was a difficult decision. “There were people against what we were doing, going so far away,” says Kensi. “It was hard, but we thought it would help, and it has.”
The whole family attended the 2019 Arthritis Foundation’s JA Conference (now called JA Family Summit) in Minneapolis. “It was absolutely amazing and just what we needed,” says Travis. They have also participated in local Walk to Cure Arthritis and Jingle Bell Run fundraisers. Their team is Cohen’s Crew (Crew named for his little brother, age 5).
Their advice to other families living with juvenile arthritis for everyday coping?
- Find your tribe. Surround yourself with people who genuinely support you. We have the most awesome tribe of friends we call family.
- Share your child’s story. Go to the JA Family Summit and camps. It’s amazing!
- Document everything — every phone call you make and everything your doctor says.
- Celebrate the small victories and make it a big deal!
What has Kensi learned about helping manage her son’s disease? “This is his disease. He has to live with it for the rest of his life. So, we encourage him to take on challenges. He’s never going to be able to conquer hard times otherwise. That was a really tough lesson for me.”
And if someone dealing with SJIA needs encouraging words, from someone who’s living with it, what’s Cohen’s advice? “I would ask them if they know what SJIA means. It sounds weird to say; I like to just say arthritis. I would tell them to go to New Mexico because they may feel better, and they could hang out with me.”
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