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Friday, 23 November, 2001, 00:02 GMT
How arthritis drug helped me
Laura Whitehead
Laura was diagnosed with the condition aged four
Thirteen-year-old Laura Whitehead has seen significant improvements in her health since she started taking the drug etanercept to treat her rheumatoid arthritis.

Laura was first diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis at the age of four and spent many years either on crutches or in a wheelchair as a result of the condition.

She has been told that later in life she will have to have a hip replacement because the disease has eaten away so much of her hip cartilage.

It makes me feel better and I don't feel so down or depressed

Laura Whitehead
Nevertheless, the teenager is enjoying a much better quality of life since she began taking the drug in conjunction with other anti-rheumatoid arthritis drugs in February.

"I used to be on crutches and last year I was actually in a wheelchair because I was quite bad," she told BBC News.

"I was having trouble just getting from one chair to another. I was not been able to do sports."

She added: "Before I was on the drug I was actually having trouble doing PE at school and I was missing out on quite a lot of it.

"At the beginning of last year I was off quite a while because I was so poorly. Now I am on the drug I can do Tae Kwon Do and I'm able to take part in PE very often. I haven't missed out so much on school.

"It makes me feel better and I don't feel so down or depressed. Before I was on the drug I couldn't do anything because I was really down and depressed."

Costly treatment

Laura is fortunate to live on the border of three health authorities in England - including Nottingham which has agreed to fund the drug treatment.

Many health authorities do not allow the medication to be prescribed to patients because of cost.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence will decide next year on whether etanercept should be available on the NHS.

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