Even for a 4-year-old, Blake Doossche is a proverbial ball of energy.

If you go

What: Third annual Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis.

When: Saturday, 5K run/walk starts at 9 a.m., 1-mile Rudolph Run at 10 a.m., and Dasher Dash kids runs at 10:15 a.m.

Where: Roper St. Francis Mount Pleasant Hospital, 3500 U.S. Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant.

Fees: $35 for 5K run, $30 for 5K walk, $20 for Rudolph Run 1-mile, and $15 for Dasher Dash kids runs.

Early pick-up: 5-7 p.m. Friday at TrySports.

On the web: www.arthritis.org

On a playground last week, he darted between equipment, climbing, jumping, running and sliding, with joyful abandon, even though he was the only kid there.

Arthritis in the U.S.

Arthritis is a complex family of musculoskeletal disorders with many causes, not yet fully understood, and so far there are no cures. It consists of more than 100 different diseases or conditions that destroy joints, bones, muscles, cartilage and other connective tissues, hampering or halting physical movement.

Arthritis is the leading cause of disability and second most frequently reported chronic condition in the U.S.

Today, arthritis strikes 50 million Americans, or one in every five adults.

Unless the trend is reversed, by 2030, an estimated 67 million adults in the U.S. will have arthritis.

An estimated 294,000 children under age 18 have some form of arthritis or rheumatic condition. This represents approximately 1 in every 250 children in the U.S.

No one would think that the little guy with an ever-present grin on his face had a disease often associated with old age: arthritis.

"When I tell people he has arthritis," father Woody Doossche says, "they are stunned and usually say they think arthritis is something that grandmothers suffer from."

The discovery

He and wife Amanda Doossche, who live in Mount Pleasant, noticed something was wrong at 20 months when Blake would wake up in the middle of the night crying in pain. When they asked him what was wrong, he told them his legs were hurting.

Initially, they chalked it up to being an active, growing child. Amanda, a physical therapist at Roper St. Francis Mount Pleasant Hospital, tried to ease the pain with massages and warm blankets.

"It was hard to see him in so much pain," recalls Amanda. "Our biggest concern is where is the pain coming from and how can we help him sleep through the night. Everything during the day was fine. He was running and jumping, but it was when he slowed down that it was very concerning."

But then she noticed something. When he reached to pick up a crayon, he had difficulty gripping it. Looking closer, his finger joints looked swollen.

They took Blake to a pediatric rheumatologist who diagnosed him with polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis, a form of rheumatoid arthritis. It is now managed with a weekly injection of a low dose of Methotrexate, originally developed as chemotherapy drug, and daily anti-inflammatories.

The reach of arthritis

Arthritis, which basically includes osteoarthritis, juvenile and rheumatoid, is not just a disease of old age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two-thirds of the 50 million Americans with some form of arthritis are under the age of 65, including nearly 300,000 children.

It is the most common cause of disability in the United States and, because of the aging population and the obesity epidemic, is expected to grow in scope. The CDC estimates 67 million Americans will have arthritis by 2030.

More than a third of sufferers have physical limitations due to the disease.

Yet in terms of health awareness among the public goes, arthritis often is overshadowed by diseases that have higher mortality rates, says Joyce Gilles, Lowcountry branch director of the Mid-Atlantic Region of the Arthritis Foundation.

Gilles has been working to raise awareness of arthritis in the Lowcountry and started one of the foundation's signature events, a Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis, at Roper's Mount Pleasant Hospital in 2011.

The third annual event, which includes a 5K timed run, a 5K walk, a one-mile Rudolph Run and Dancer Dash kids race, will be Saturday morning. It already has surpassed its goal of raising $21,800, and that's without a presenting sponsor. She expects the event to draw 500 total participants, more than double the 180 in the first year.

Nationwide, more than 100 Jingle Bell runs, most set for this weekend, are expected to raise $6.6 million for the foundation this year, according to its website.

Gilles says 87 percent of the money raised goes to the support the mission of the foundation, including programs and research on preventing and treating the disease.

"If you live long enough, and many of us will, you're going to get arthritis," says Gilles. "But arthritis is far from being a grandmother's disease."

Frontline view

Allison Swanson, a physician's assistant at Charleston Bone & Joint, lives on the frontlines of arthritis on a daily basis and says more research on arthritis is critical to addressing the needs of a growing arthritis population in the future.

"It's crippling for so many people," says Swanson. "So if we can do more things for people on the front end of arthritis the better."

Like the Doossches and Gilles, Swanson sees arthritis as a disease of all ages, in part because some people are more genetically prone to getting it.

"The sad part of me is telling someone in their 30s that they have to stop running because of their arthritis. ... Many take it as an early loss of their youth," she says.

The single resource offering the most support for arthritis sufferers, Swanson adds, is the Arthritis Foundation, which she often refers patients to for information and support.

Reach David Quick at 937-5516.