SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - At first glance Jake Nelson looks like any other 6-year-old excited to participate in the Jingle Bell Run with his family, but two years ago he was diagnosed with a disease that could have kept him out of the race - juvenile arthritis.
"It's sad that you young child has to go through this and we don't have care here for any child that has arthritis," said Jake's mother Denise Nelson. "We have to travel to Augusta."
Jake was first diagnosed after his knees and ankles began swelling.
"Before his medicine started working for him, he would cry that his legs would hurt. He would wake up in the middle of the night that he was in pain," said Nelson.
Now with proper medication and exercise, Jake can enjoy his youth.
"He swims a lot," said Nelson. "We were told that was the best form of exercise for anyone with arthritis is to swim."
Dr. Mark Winchell said Jake is not a rare case. Nearly 9,000 children alone in Georgia are affected, and more than 50 million people nationwide, but there are programs to help.
"We also have a lot of great programs like here at the YMCA that helps people get moving and keep their joints from getting stiff," said Dr. Mark Winchell. "A lot of the problems are from stiffness of arthritis."
Winchell recommends low-impact exercise.
"No running, mostly swimming, spinning and the elliptical; walking is good, that is why we are here this morning," Winchell said.
To bring awareness and raise funds for a disease that affects so many.
"I think it brings a lot of awareness to people who don't know children can get arthritis," said Nelson.
You don't want to do things that will jar and pound on the joints, that will just cause pain. There is an exercise program available at local YMCAs that is sponsored by the Arthritis Foundation. For more information visit www.ymcaofcoastalga.org/.