What could be harder for a pretty teenager to face than having to wear a brace on her leg and use crutches to walk? "One morning I woke up in horrible pain; I couldn't stand up," remembers Meredith Boyd. The diagnosis: rheumatoid arthritis (RA). At 15, she had surgery to remove the painfully inflamed lining (the synovium) of her right knee.
"As a kid, dealing with what everyone thought was an old person's disease was tough," says Meredith. Kids at school weren't kind, taunting her in the hallway as she struggled to take another step.
No one is laughing now. Meredith grew up to be a beauty—in fact, a beauty queen. She was crowned Mrs. Georgia International in 2008, and she uses her title to promote arthritis awareness. She also serves as a spokeswoman for the Arthritis Foundation. Her day job is director of communications for an Atlanta public-relations firm—and she does some modeling, too.
After her knee surgery, Meredith did well until 2005, when she developed a pain in her left foot "that made every step feel like I was walking on shards of glass." Cortisone shots and physical therapy helped for a while, but not enough. She opted for surgery to remove the troublesome arthritic bone. Unable to take drugs for RA because of another condition (Barrett's esophagus, which causes changes in the tissue lining the esophagus), Meredith nevertheless considers herself lucky that RA hasn't interfered more with her life.
Meredith has occasional hip pain, but that hasn't stopped her from working out at the gym four times a week "on the elliptical machine to avoid the pounding of feet on the treadmill." She also does regular weight training.
Now in her early 30s, Meredith has been married for more than 10 years to a police detective in Powder Springs, GA. She and her husband, Matt, want children, but Meredith worries that pregnancy-related weight gain could exert pressure on her hip, causing her RA to flare. "I want to carry a baby to term and have a good pregnancy and a healthy baby," she says. "I hope my hip holds out."
And she wants to tell young people with arthritis that "what you're going through is only temporary. There will be better days. Don't let anything stop you from living out your dreams."