MONTREAL, DECEMBER 12, 2011- Former Montreal Canadiens Stanley Cup winning head coach Jean Perron was at the St. Laurent Adult Education Centre on December 12 to speak to students on behalf of The Arthritis Society – Quebec Division (www.arthritis.ca).
With one out of eight adults living with this disease and one out of 1,000 children living with juvenile arthritis, more than 232,000 Montreal residents and 1.1 million Quebecers and their families are affected. In order to help The Arthritis Society provide essential services to people with this disease and medical research to progress more quickly, Mr. Perron has agreed to act as one of the organization’s new spokespersons. He spoke to students about the connections between sports and arthritis and answered questions about his exciting career.
Perron coached the Canadiens for three seasons, winning the Cup in 1986, as well as the Quebec Nordiques (now the Colorado Avalanche). He also coached in the International Hockey League with the Manitoba Moose and the San Francisco Spiders. In recent years he has coached the Israeli national team and worked as a sports commentator on French language television.
Joining Mr. Perron at the presentation was 18-year-old Simone Cavanaugh, who spoke about her nine-year experience with juvenile arthritis (JA). Mark Bordeleau and Ken Gagnon, executive director and coordinator of research and advocacy respectively, spoke as well.
A vast majority of Canadians are not aware that JA is one of the most common chronic childhood diseases, according to a recent national survey commissioned by The Arthritis Society. The Ipsos Reid survey revealed that 80 per cent of respondents, including parents with children below the age of 16, are unfamiliar with the disease. Juvenile arthritis affects every one in 1,000 Canadian children.
JA results from the malfunctioning of the body's immune system, which fails to recognize healthy body tissue and attacks it. Symptoms include intense pain and inflammation of the joints, which can make activities that most children take for granted – buttoning clothes, playing sports or carrying books to school – difficult to perform. Depending on the severity of the arthritis, some children experience irregular growth or physical disability. Most of these symptoms are not recognized or understood. In fact, according to the national survey, 34 per cent believe that the only side effect of JA is painful, achy joints.
Cavanaugh vividly remembers her first experience with JA. She was six years old and woke up in excruciating pain. “I woke up crying,” Cavanaugh told Canadian Press. “My mom came to see what was wrong and my legs were really hurting me, my hips and my ankles especially. At first she thought I was exaggerating or it was growing pains, but I kept insisting that I was in pain. I wouldn’t stop crying for a few days.”
It took Cavanaugh two years to be properly diagnosed and get on medication that would relieve her pain and eventually leave her symptom-free, with the exception of a few relapses. Before that, she would find herself using crutches to walk and then in a wheelchair, coping with an illness most people associate with the elderly. She graduated from the EMSB’s FACE High School two years ago and now attends Champlain College in St. Lambert.
Treatment is offered through physiotherapy and medication, which can put the disease into remission as it did with Cavanaugh, although Dr. Sarah Campillo, a pediatric rheumatologist at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, points out that more than half the children will continue to have arthritis even as they become adults. Young patients have to be supervised closely to make sure they take their medication because, she says, teenagers being teenagers, they sometimes feel they can let it slip if they aren’t feeling any pain. Cavanaugh says she wasn’t surprised by her diagnosis, which made sense because her joint pain was consistent with the inflammation that juvenile arthritis causes to the skeletal system. Friends and family, however, were often astonished by the cause of her illness. Perron is involved in an Arthritis Society fundraiser called the Victoria Cup, offering individuals the opportunity to spend the week of March 27 to April 2, 2012 in Prague, Czech Republic and to participate in the Hervis Prague Marathon along with himself, former Nordique Marian Stastny, ex-boxer Deano Clavet, Alouettes football legend Peter Dalla Riva and professional golfer Carlo Blanchard. Each will lead teams and raise money for research into arthritis.
Perron does not have arthritis. But two of his nieces suffer from the disease, as do a number of his former hockey players. “Sure they made lots of money, but right now their lives are miserable,” he says. “They never consulted a doctor when they should have.”