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EMU student’s battle with rheumatoid arthritis inspires nursing studies

Taylor Mortensen, a sophomore at Eastern Mennonite University, has been inspired to pursue a career in pediatric nursing because of her experiences with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. (Photo by Londen Wheeler)
Taylor Mortensen, a sophomore at Eastern Mennonite University, has been inspired to pursue a career in pediatric nursing because of her experiences with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. (Photo by Londen Wheeler)

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is not a part of our everyday vocabulary and especially not heard on a college campus. But it’s a familiar disease to Eastern Mennonite University sophomore Taylor Mortensen, who lives with it every day.

In fact, Mortensen, 19, calls the disease “a blessing in disguise.”

“If I wasn’t in and out of hospitals so often as a child, I would have never discovered my passion for nursing,” says the future pediatric nurse. “When I was a child, I was helped by wonderful nurses, and some not so wonderful nurses. I’m going to be one of those wonderful nurses to sick children.”

Mortensen speaks from experience: She was diagnosed at age seven. after spending more time in the hospital than normal and suffering through multiple bad experiences. “I used to get blood taken a lot and one nurse had to stick the needle in both my arms two different times before she could actually hit a vein. It was the worst experience ever.”

She also endured numerous tests for her diagnosis, such as MRIs, CT scans, blood work and more. The MRI machine, “very narrow like a tunnel,” was especially frightening, Mortensen says, recalling that the test “went on for what seemed like forever and I could never fall asleep because the noises were too loud. The worst part about it is that I had to lay still which is very hard for any child to accomplish.”

Despite these experiences, her parents prioritized a normal active life for their daughter.

“We were blessed with a beautiful child,” said her mother, Kelly Mortensen, “and we weren’t going to let this diagnosis stop her from having a great life. There were times when I would have to get up early in the morning and wrap her up with a warm towel in order to loosen up her joints so she wasn’t in pain all day.”

“It’s like having sand or rust, I guess, in your bones,” Mortensen says. “It slows me down physically, but I refuse to let it stop me from doing normal physical activities someone my age has no problem doing.”

Though she was often cared for often by others, she also grew up as a caregiver herself. A northern Virginia native, she has seven siblings, most of whom are younger. She often helped care for them, which helped her decide that nursing might be a good career choice.

Mortensen says that from ages 7 to 17, there were no consistent medications that helped “because there were so many side effects and risks for children taking adult medicines.” Luckily though, she now takes Embrel, an intramuscular self-administered shot that works so well, she calls it “a miracle.”

She also stays active with walking and participating in activities such as gentle yoga to prevent further immobility. Her physical struggles of every day life may slow her down, but her attitude never stops being positive.

Her doctor, rheumatologist James Roberson, encourages her to keep her joints moving as much as possible. “It’s important that she takes the stairs instead of the elevator, and walks to class instead of driving if possible because the more she moves, the looser her joints will be and will not stiffen up as often,” he said.

Mortensen works out in the fitness center at least five times a week and chooses a healthy diet.

When she graduates in 2018, she’s looking forward to making a difference in the lives of children, as one of those “wonderful nurses” she remembers.

Story by Dylan Buchanan. This article was first published in the Nov. 19, 2015 issue of The Weather Vane.