Mt. Pleasant Township girl is honored during Arthritis Walk
Avery Polinsky intently eyed the grassy ground in her backyard recently before breaking into a short sprint, planting her right hand firmly in the moist blades and executing a one-handed cartwheel with balance and precision.
The gymnast's skills possessed by Polinsky, 6, of Mt. Pleasant Township, belie the battle she has been fighting daily since she was diagnosed four years ago with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
“The biggest compliment we get from people is when they tell us they would never know she suffered from that,” said Robin Polinsky, Avery's mother.
But the fact that 300,000 children like Avery suffer from the disease in America is not something that is common knowledge, according to Kristina M. Waltman, development director for the Arthritis Foundation, Great Lakes Region, Western Pennsylvania, based in Pittsburgh.
“I think Avery's story has inspired so many other families in the area with children who suffer from this disease,” Waltman said.
For that reason, Avery was chosen by the foundation to serve as an honoree during the Arthritis Walk held Saturday at the Southside Works in Pittsburgh.
“Avery's personality is contagious, and we felt she makes a great example for other kids who are trying to overcome the disease by staying active,” Waltman said.
It all started when Avery turned 2, according to her mother.
“We noticed she was limping on her right ankle, especially in the morning,” Robin Polinsky said.
Upon further inspection, Avery's shoes were also not fitting the same due to swelling in her foot and Robin and Brian Polinsky, Avery's father, noticed she had stiffness in her left knee, she said.
The couple took Avery to an orthopedic specialist at Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh who told them she had “unilateral flatfoot,” which only comes from inflammation in the joint, Robin Polinsky said.
Eventually, the Polinskys were referred to a pediatric rheumatologist at the hospital who diagnosed her with the disease.
“Of all things that we worried about our child getting, arthritis never crossed our minds,” Robin Polinsky said. “It is an adult disease that affects the aging population, right? We soon learned that this was not the case.”
Since her diagnosis, Avery has suffered from inflammation in many of her joints, including her ankle, knee, toes, wrist and finger and also in one of her eyes, her mother said.
“And who knew that arthritis could affect her vision? Her diagnosis made us feel sad and overwhelmed,” Robin Polinsky said. “She will have to live with the debilitating pain of arthritis for most of her life.”
After the initial devastation, the Polinskys decided to take a proactive approach to Avery's situation, her mother said.
The spring after Avery's diagnosis, they were asked to participate in the foundation's Spring Walk.
“We thought that this would be a great way to take a positive outlook for her future by increasing awareness of the disease and raising money for the Arthritis Foundation,” Robin Polinsky said.
Between 2010 and 2012, “Avery's Angels,” the team annually representing the girl during events, raised more than $8,000 for arthritis research, education and programming.
Such research led to the development of medication, such as Enbrel, which has been used for roughly a decade to treat juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, according to Waltman.
After attempting physical therapy, injected and oral medications, steroid joint injections and eye treatments, all to little success, Avery began submitting to a single injection of Enbrel per week, her mother said.
Avery since has excelled while taking part not only in gymnastics classes, but also swimming, roller skating, bike riding and playing with her friends.
“We are so thankful for these improved treatments, but we are hoping and praying for a cure in Avery's lifetime ... this is why our family walks (during the events),” Robin Polinsky said.
The Avery's Angels team is sponsored by Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy Associates Inc. in Greensburg, where Robin Polinsky is employed as a hand therapist.
This year, the group doubled the total money raised previously at the walk.
Since February, the surrounding community helped the team raise $6,300 prior to Saturday's event.
On the day of the event, 29 people walked with Avery's Angels to help raise roughly $1,900, bringing the grand total raised to more than $16,000 since the Polinskys started walking in 2010.
The total amount raised by all teams at this year's walk was $97,211, Waltman said. That amount exceeded the goal of $91,643, or 20 percent more than the total amount raised at the event in 2012, she said.
“It's not every day that you turn around and your child is diagnosed with this, and the Polinskys have really spoken out, along with their friends, families and co-workers,” Waltman said. “They've made a commitment to raise funds to find a cure and we couldn't be more happy to have them help us.”
As for Avery, her thoughts are exactly where they should be, becoming a better gymnast and filling her young life with fun and happiness.
“She's an exceptional kid,” said Kristin Matheny-Harenchar, head gymnastics instructor at Regional Family YMCA of Laurel Highlands near Mt. Pleasant.
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.