Faith Larson, currently a junior at Mar Vista High School (MVHS), was only 6 years old when a doctor noticed something wrong with her eyesight. A subsequent visit to an ophthalmologist revealed that her left eye had been damaged and scarred by uveitis brought on by rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
“It was the hardest day for me,” said Faith’s mom Maryann Larson.
On that day Larson decided that she would not baby her daughter because she wanted her to be strong. That payed off. “If it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t be the person I’m today,” said Faith of her mom.
This April 27, Faith will be the teen honoree at the annual Walk to Cure Arthritis and will speak about her experience before the 3-mile event. She has also formed a team, called Team Faith, that is raising funds for the cause and this year’s goal is $2,500.
By the time the RA was diagnosed, Faith’s disease was too far advanced and the only option was medical infusions which means the medication is given intravenously every four weeks. Faith explained she has flares up every so often and can be in different parts of her body accompanied by fever and swelling. “I always have pain and have grown to adapt to pain. I played basketball since fourth grade and [the pain] didn’t bug me until my freshman year [at MVHS] with excessive running,” she said.
Faith had to stop playing basketball and is doing physical therapy to get stronger. Basketball had been her physical and mental outlet for many years.
“I’ve been through so much but it doesn’t define me. I want to have a normal life,” she said. Currently after school she is working at 32nd Street Naval Base as a stocker.
Although Faith lives with the disease, in the past she hid it at school. But as time went on and she had to miss classes for doctor’s appointments or because the pain was too much and couldn’t go to school she now has a special accommodations.
To raise funds for her Walk to Cure Arthritis team, Faith and her mom have dropped off coin collection boxes at Surf Hut and Red House Kitchen in Imperial Beach. On April 14, in collaboration with Little Ant Art, a painting party fundraiser for the walk will be held at Red House Kitchen. In addition, some proceeds from food or drinks sold at the eatery on that day will also go to Team Faith. Last year the team raised almost $2,000. Faith will also speak at the Sweetwater School board meeting to advocate for a penny drive and during an assembly at MVHS.
Faith wants to be a physical therapist when she is older because she wants to help kids like her get the right advice and help since she had a bad experience with her first physical therapist. “I don’t want that to happen to anybody else,” she said.
Faith recently switched medication because her body became used to the medication she had received for the past 10 years. She is going to try to do a new trial and inject herself every day although she has a fear of needles.
Despite the pain and the flare ups, Faith is a normal kid who likes to hang out with her friends, go to the beach and stay active. Every morning and evening she has to stretch to stay limber. “If I can’t run, I’ll walk,” she said.
At school Faith’s favorite subjects are math and English. Last semester she had a 4.1 GPA but this semester she has a 3.6. “It makes me upset because I know I can do it,” she said. But there are times when she can’t even type on her computer and her body usually hurts more as it gets closer to the next infusion.
As any mom would, Larson worries about her daughter who will be 17 soon. “The disease can cause glaucoma… there is so much to it. It’s an autoimmune disease and can damage other things in your body. You need to be on top of it,” she said.
Larson wants to make ensure her daughter advocates for herself as she gets older and will be an adult. “You are in charge, you have to handle your disease,” she tells her. “I want her to be strong, independent.”
Faith’s team t-shirts which she designed herself has the following saying on it, “Be strong, Be Brave, Be Fearless. You’re Never alone, Joshua 1:9”
Faith remembers that when she was 6 years old she asked God to have a superpower. Though at first it seems she didn’t get her wish she has now come to a different conclusion. “I observe a lot. I’m very sensitive, emotional…I feed off other peoples, I feel what they feel. This is my superpower,” she said.
By being part of the Walk to Cure Arthritis she connected with a 4-year-old girl who has RA and was diagnosed when she was 2 years old. Faith is now mentoring the little girl. “Embrace the negative, look at the positive. I’m encouraging her to be strong. Little things like that make me happy. God is using this disease to help others,” she said.
“We connected with the girl’s mom. When Faith was young we didn’t know someone who had the disease,” said Larson.
“Now I can learn more about people with arthritis. [In the past] I felt I was alone, no one is going to understand me. With the Arthritis Foundation, it’s an extended family of people I can connect with,” she said.
To join the team or donate log on https://events.arthritis.org/team/13165