MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – One Twin Cities family is feeling extra thankful for their daughter’s health this holiday.

Over the last two years, 8-year-old Belle Heldt has battled an auto-immune condition which affected her muscles and joints.

It’s called juvenile dermatomyositis, or JDM, and affects one in every one million kids.

During her treatment at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, doctors also discovered that Belle had a form of arthritis associated with JDM.

“It’s about one in a million who get JDM and she had arthritis on top of that which is one in five, of one in a million, so we always tell her she’s one in five million,” Luke Heldt, Belle’s dad, said.

Belle’s symptoms showed up in the form of colds and earaches but eventually progressed to joint stiffness, rashes on her body, muscle loss and weight loss.

“I used to be a cart wheeling pro and I loved to do that, and somersaults and all that.  Then, I just started to stop doing that stuff because of my disabilities and it was still hard to walk. I couldn’t physically dress myself that well,” Belle said. “I didn’t like it. It made me sad and upset because I couldn’t do the stuff I saw other kids are doing.”

“She would just fall.  Her muscles would give out and she wouldn’t be able to get up off the floor and that was hard,” Amber, Belle’s mom, said.

Her parents, Luke and Amber, brought her to Gillette where pediatric rheumatologist Dr. Richard Vehe made the diagnosis.

Doctors prescribed months of therapy and medication and Belle eventually regained her movement.

“We stressed that with her from the beginning, like, you may not be able to do physically things you could do, but, you can do so much more with head and heart,” Luke said.

This past summer Belle showed that her disease wouldn’t hold her back.

She decided that she wanted to give back to the hospital that helped her.

“I realized Gillette did so, so, much for me that I wanted to give back by raising money so they can get better equipment for doctors and maybe therapists,” Belle said.

Belle raised $2,200 this summer and donated to Gillette.

Belle also gave something to the people who donated to her cause.

Using popsicle sticks and colorful yarn she handmade a God’s eye craft for each person who donated to the hospital.

“It’s kind of a thank you for donating,” Belle said.

“I’m so proud of her and she inspires us and inspires other people,” Amber said.

Belle is planning another fundraiser for Gillette in the near future.

If you’d like to help, go to Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare online.

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