Having to learn how to self-inject medication at the age of 11 years is a common experience amongst teenagers and children who have a form of arthritis. Now 21 years old, Jacob Toresen is no stranger to self-administering injections, learning to limit himself, and the nasty trials and errors of finding a treatment plan that works, while living with an invisible illness, and the isolation attached to it during the school and university years.

Jacob and TP at Teen’s Camp 2019

Teenagers with arthritis do not fit the stereotype of arthritis affecting older people only. “Isn’t that what old people get?” is a common reaction when teens with arthritis tell others about their arthritis. Often young people with arthritis are overlooked and their needs not considered when youth health and wellbeing are under the spotlight. Arthritis New Zealand believes that teens with arthritis have some clear needs and held its annual camp for this group from 6 to 8 December at El Rancho on the Kapiti Coast.

Fifteen teenagers from around New Zealand came together for education, leadership development and the opportunity to meet with others their age who know what it is like to be a teenager who has arthritis.

Two youths that helped lead the teens this weekend are young men who have grown up with arthritis since childhood and understand the challenges of growing up with the condition that is too often only associated with old age.

Jacob Toresen is one of those leaders, and his story illustrates these challenges. Diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis at 11 years old, Jacob said that at the time he did not realise the impact this would have on his life. “It changed completely,” he recalls. “I couldn’t run around with my friends at school, and I felt left out. I had to have many tests and trials to find the right medication and going to an Arthritis New Zealand camp was unbelievably beneficial for me. I learned I was not alone and that was so helpful.”

That’s why Jacob returns to Arthritis New Zealand camps. He shares his story and helps others learn that life with arthritis does not mean you cannot achieve and do well.

Jacob has finished his final year of law school and is a great role model for the teens gathering this weekend. Activities include team-building games, education about arthritis and its management, and leadership skills and opportunities.

“It is so important to learn to pace yourself, learn limits and realise that sometimes you may need to take a break. Arthritis camps have been a highlight of my journey growing up with arthritis. I want all families who have children with arthritis to know about these camps” says Jacob.

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