Daniel Wright has remained positive despite suffering intense pain and having his movement curtailed by the debilitating condition.
The 18-year-old was even unable to receive the award at his school, Bede Academy, in Blyth, in person as he was recovering from a hip replacement operation.
His hip had failed within only a year, causing severe pain and leaving him virtually immobile. It followed the arthritis affecting his left foot and ankle, his right shoulder, both knees, his right elbow and his upper jaw.
Despite it all, and his missing large parts of his education, Daniel gained nine GCSEs two years ago and has just heard that he has achieved merits in double BTEC in engineering and BTEC ICT. He was also the first student in his year to secure an apprenticeship, working in IT with the NHS.
Principal at Bede Academy Gwyneth Evans said: “Daniel is a wonderful inspiration to everyone at Bede. He has gone through a great deal but has refused to be beaten by his rheumatoid arthritis. He thoroughly deserved our award that recognises grit and determination.”
Miss Evans added: “Daniel has had to work extra hard through missing lessons due to hospital stays, but he has done it all with a cheerful attitude and a smile on his face. It is good news that his hip operation went well and we all hope that he can look forward now to starting his apprenticeship. We wish him all the very best for the future.”
Daniel, of Melville Avenue, South Beach, was seven when he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis following blood tests taken when he became poorly following a streptococcus throat infection.
His dad Jason explained: “He was put under several doctors and started a lot of different treatments. The doctors said it was one of the worst cases they’d seen. They struggled to control his temperature flare-ups. He was on steroids as well and they’d get him stabilised for three months then the drugs would stop working and his temperature would flare again.”
Unlike osteoarthritis, which is most commonly linked with joint inflammation in old age, the much less common rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that targets the joints, causing inflammation and pain which can spread and lead to the bone and cartilage breaking down.
Having been a talented footballer as a little boy, Daniel’s first joint to fail was his left foot when he was nine.
“It became really painful to move it and now my left ankle has all fused together so I can only move it up and down,” Daniel explained.
In one of the darkest periods, he ended up in intensive care as his body suffered severe flare-ups.
“They wanted us to send him to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London and put him in a bubble, shut down all his systems then bring him back again. We were told there was a 50 per cent chance he wouldn’t come back, so we refused, but they were running out of options. They pumped lots of drugs into him and eventually he pulled through,” remembered Jason.
Originally a marine engineer, he gave up his job to look after Daniel with his wife Wendy and now the couple, who have a daughter Jessica who is also at Bede Academy, run a domestic cleaning company.
“As a family you just have to cope,” said Jason. “We’ve changed our lifestyle to fit around the caring and hospital stays.”
Daniel has to inject himself daily and have a drug infusion every month at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle to keep his immune system in check, as well as regularly taking painkillers. He has crutches and has been in wheelchair but prefers not to use them.
“I’m quite stable at the moment because of the injections and infusions, and it’s been a lot better since my hip replacement. I was walking with a limp but they’ve lengthened my leg as well with lots of packing in the joint,” said Daniel, who, now he is 18, is allowed to take adult medication.
Jason explained: “It’s definitely opened a door for us in terms of the range of treatments. They all do the same thing but act in a different way because your body becomes used to them.
“Once the joints become affected they can’t be repaired. It’s worse than cancer because it’s not curable.
“We had to go with the hip replacement now because there would have been no bone left at all if we’d waited. But Daniel can only have two operations in his lifetime and the results only last 15 years,” added Jason.
In spite of this, the family has been buoyed by the successful outcome of the hip replacement so far.
Daniel said: “You just have to get on with it. My joints crack now but I couldn’t walk down the street before. Now I’m getting down to the beach again.”