Emma Christofferson, who has juvenile idiopathic arthritis, will be the Youth Honoree at the 2021 Jingle Bell Run on Dec. 12 in Seattle. Courtesy photo

Emma Christofferson, who has juvenile idiopathic arthritis, will be the Youth Honoree at the 2021 Jingle Bell Run on Dec. 12 in Seattle. Courtesy photo

Youth with arthritis possesses a light, confidence and fierceness

Emma Christofferson will serve as Youth Honoree at Jingle Bell Run.

Emma Christofferson’s eighth birthday on Dec. 12 was already going to be special. That day will be even more meaningful for the Mercer Island youngster when she stands strong as the Youth Honoree for the 2021 Jingle Bell Run to support awareness for arthritis at the Green Lake Aqua Theater in Seattle.

Emma, who was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis when she was 18 months old, is anticipating her monumental moment of cutting the ribbon and then running in the race herself.

“It feels very good,” said an excited Emma with her voice beaming over the phone on a recent day. “All the money, then you can donate it to the hospital for other kids that have arthritis.”

With gymnastics, soccer, softball, cheerleading and dancing already part of her life, dashing in the Jingle Bell Run is a welcome activity to her repertoire. Emma said she’s prepared to race.

“I actually didn’t know that I was going to run, but my mom just told me that I was — so I am going to,” she said with a giggle.

Despite the flare-ups of pain and swelling in some of her joints that she often experiences through the arthritis, Emma said she feels strong and tells her family to be tough and positive no matter what comes their way.

Emma’s mother, Beth, draws inspiration from her daughter and said that the Northwood Elementary School second-grader reels her classmates in with her light and confidence, according to one of her teachers.

“I do think what she’s been through with her arthritis has shaped that spark in her,” said Beth, adding that Emma has been fierce throughout her battle.

Beth continues, letting her emotions flow when discussing the effect Emma has made on her life: “I feel like God gave me her as a daughter for a reason because I draw strength from her and her joy and the light that she brings, and she doesn’t let that hold her back from doing anything. There were some dark days during COVID, and she actually helped pull me through.”

Dad Dane, who first met Beth at Mercer Island High School in 2000 and they’ve been together ever since, said he’s proud of how tough Emma has become in not letting arthritis slow her down.

“She’ll try anything, she’ll do everything, and she does it with great positivity,” he said. “She’s able to live a pretty normal kid’s life, which is awesome, and it’s a tribute to the care she gets and the support.”

Emma attends school and engages in copious activities just like any other child her age. Sometimes, however, she calls a time out.

“She calls her arthritis ‘slooushy’ (when she’s having a flare), so if she’s having one of those days, she just self-regulates and sits out,” Beth said.

Dad is thrilled to see Emma step into the Youth Honoree role and lend a hand to other kids who have arthritis. Beth — who noted that their son, 10-year-old Luke, is Emma’s biggest fan — said this is a big year for her daughter to share her story with everyone through the Jingle Bell Run fundraiser.

“Up until recently, she hasn’t wanted to talk about it or do a really big fundraising effort or let it define her in any way,” Beth said. “I think she finally has the self-awareness to recognize there are quite a few kids out there with the same thing.”

Emma was diagnosed with arthritis in the summer of 2015 after sustaining what the family thought was a sprained ankle after a weekend of exploring and walking by the river in Cle Elum. After receiving the diagnosis from an orthopedic doctor at Seattle Children’s Hospital, “That just floored us,” Beth said.

The arthritis caused several of Emma’s joints to become swollen, and she’s had numerous procedures and weekly injections. Every two years since her diagnosis, Emma returns to Seattle Children’s for joint injections in her knees to ease the inflammation.

Beth praised Seattle Children’s rheumatologist and Mercer Island resident Dr. Susan Shenoi, who has been by Emma’s side from nearly the start, and primary care physicians Dr. Hal Quinn and Dr. Elizabeth Evans of Mercer Island Pediatrics.

“That special community piece of what makes Mercer Island so unique is that you have this giant care system that truly is invested in you and takes the time,” said Beth, adding that arthritis is not life threatening and they’re trying to help Emma navigate how to live a healthy and fulfilled active life.

Visit Emma’s fundraiser page at https://events.arthritis.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=233390

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