By Mike Calimbas | Photos provided by Reynaldo Rueda
Houstonian Kid Roman Rueda and his fight with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA)
HOUSTON, TX – Just over a year and a half ago, young Houstonian Roman Rueda was just like any other kid in our community. He was energetic and active, played with his friends when not in school, and loved to train and compete in tournaments as part North Houston’s Team Tooke MMA/BJJ academy. Fast forward to present day and he can’t do much of that stuff due to Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA).
JRA is a term used to describe a common type of arthritis found in children. So far the causes aren’t conclusively known but it’s thought to be an autoimmune illness – the type where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy body tissue. JRA causes stiffness in joints and intense pain. In short, it’s pretty debilitating.
Roman’s dad and MMA promoter / Youth Center Founder Reynaldo Rueda described their journey dealing with JRA to us:
“Just over a year and a half ago, we were at Austin Open tournament and he (Roman) had just lost his final no-gi match for the gold medal competing against 8 other kids who were older and bigger than him. Immediately following that match he started to cry and saying that he was in a lot pain, so Travis and I pulled him from the gi competition and that was the last time he competed. Since then he started to have pain in his knees, ankles, elbows and lower back. His pediatrician just thought it was growing pains until he got to the point to where he couldn’t walk.”
Since then it’s gotten worse. Roman cannot walk unassisted for more than ten feet or so and he struggles to get out of bed in the morning. Normal everyday activities like getting in and out of a car and going outside to enjoy normal daily activities with his friends have been more than challenging. He also has to take extra precautions so that he doesn’t get sick because the medications used to treat the condition also lower his immune system. A simple cold can turn into pneumonia.
“It has been very difficult and stressful and it’s been such an emotional ride as well. We just try to support each other as best as we can and tell ourselves that things can only get better and just leave it in God’s hands.” says Rey about how he and his family have coped with Roman’s JRA.
As far as treatment goes, that too has taken its toll.
“The shots were the worst because every time he got them, Roman yelled in pain and said that his body felt like it was burning. The other medications caused him to gain a lot of weight and it’s been a struggle for Roman to adjust both physically and mentally. He has his good days and he has his bad ones. If his pain level is low, he has a great attitude but if his pain level is high, he gets very irritable and miserable.”
Turning the corner with proper treatment and the right attitude
In the last month or so Roman Rueda’s JRA treatments, as tough as they have been, have finally made enough of a difference where he and his family are able to see a light through the darkness. The Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) is now classified as in remission. He no longer has to take the shot treatments that have been so painful all this time. For him that’s definitely a good thing. He still can’t walk unassisted and has to go to school in a wheelchair. The doctors also have him on physical, aqua and nerve stimulating therapy so he can continue to get better.
Moving forward, Roman’s positive attitude will continue to help him and his family through his battle with JRA. He’s taken the same resilient attitude with his ongoing treatment as he has in the past competing in the kids divisions at those BJJ tournaments.
“There’s not much I can do right now but I’m going to continue to do what I can to get better,” says Roman. “I try to stay positive and being with my friends as much as I can and having so much support from my family and my dog Zeus helps. He lifts me up when I’m not feeling good and down. Not being able to walk on my own or play outside and having to go to school in a wheel chair…. I don’t like it but it makes it easier to get around.”
As for his family, Rey Rueda says they’ll continue to make all the necessary sacrifices in order to provide the best treatment and care for his son.
“It’s been very costly to treat JRA. From the medications, shots, doctor visits and physical therapy, it can add up. With medical treatments and medications ranging from $25 to $5000 a month, I would defiantly say it’s been costly but my wife and I both have good jobs. With a little help from our family, cutting back on a few things and sending our daughter to community college instead of the collage she was accepted too, we’re managing to keep our heads above water. We have all made some temporary sacrifices.”
Learn more about Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) and Roman’s Fight
“They can go to Arthritis.org or Kidsgetarthritistoo.org, Rueda says. “They have a lot of helpful information on there. The Arthritis Foundation has several events throughout the year in which people can donate too. Their next event is The Jingle Bell Walk that will take place in The Woodlands Dec.14th. Roman is participating in the walk and is raising funds to help other kids like him who could all could benefit from a cure.”
As for Roman’s own illness, they too have started a charity in order to raise funds for his care, but more importantly to raise awareness about JRA, especially in the Texas mixed martial arts and BJJ community that he is proud to be a part of.
“We started the RJ VS JRA FIGHT campaign to help raise money for the Arthritis Foundation by getting mixed martial arts community involved not just locally but all over Texas. We have window and bumper decals of Romans badge that we’re asking donations for. We will have gi patches soon and Cheeto (Musquiz) with Bull Prints and Bull Shirts are designing Roman his own campaign fight shirt that we will be selling. All the proceeds from this stuff will be going towards his fundraising goal for the Jingle Bell Walk. We will also be working together with some of the Arthritis Foundation representatives to have several local events. Anyone who wants to contribute, help or join the cause would be awesome but the main thing is I just ask that everyone continues to keep him in prayers. He’s a tough kid and deserves to get better and beat this thing.”
“I would defiantly like to thank you Mike, friends, family and all the TXMMA community all over Texas for all the support and prayers that we’ve been getting. We are looking for fighters (pros and amateurs) all over Texas and beyond to represent Roman by wearing his RJ VS JRA badge when they fight. This is my son’s campaign fight and has nothing to do w/ my CDM Youth Center or CDM Promotions so I am also reaching and calling out to all fight promoters, organizations and gyms. I can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.”