2012 Arthritis Hero Shows Her Spirit
Tami Navarro wants you to put her out of job. She wants you to put her whole association out of a job, as a matter of fact. Navarro is the community development director for the Arthritis Foundation in Houston, and this month you’ll find her in the Bay Area on May 12, for the annual Bay Area Arthritis Walk.
“There’s no cure for arthritis,” she says. “And our walks and the donations we receive help funnel money into research. Someday, we hope we won’t be here anymore, because then we’ll know we’ve put an end to this disease.”
There’s no escaping Navarro’s passion for what she does. She exudes both energy and compassion as she talks about a disease with no known causes that affects one million people in the Houston area, 5,000 of whom are children.
“When people think about arthritis, they think of old people,” says Navarro. “And I was one of those people. But this disease can strike anyone.”
There are three main kinds of arthritis, she explains. Osteoarthritis stems from wear and tear on a person’s joints, and this is the arthritis that is most associated with older people and can be seen by some as a natural part of ageing. Rheumatoid arthritis wreaks havoc on the immune system, resulting in swollen joints and pain throughout the body. Rheumatoid arthritis can hit anyone, at any time. But when it does so in childhood, it’s called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
And that’s the kind of arthritis Bella Lawlar has. The 11-year-old Clear Lake girl was officially diagnosed with Polyarticular Juvenile Arthritis was she was in the second grade. Her mother, Martha, has lupus, so she suspected something wasn’t quite right when Bella began complaining about knee pain when she was in kindergarten. At first, she says, doctors tried to attribute it to growing pains. But, when Bella’s symptoms didn’t get better, she called Texas Children’s Hospital.
“They knew the minute they saw her, there was something else going on,” she says.
Next came the inevitable: blood tests, doctor visits, X-rays.
“They X-rayed everything,” sighs Martha. “Bella’s hands, her hips, her feet. And we found out that some damage was permanent.”
When you look at Bella, she looks like any other pre-teen, with golden blonde hair, a wide, engaging smile and eyes that show a curiosity about the world around her. Dressed in a t-shirt and shorts, there’s nothing to suggest that five years ago, she moved, in her mother’s words, “like a little old man.”
“I’m a normal kid,” she says in a video made for the Arthritis Foundation. “Just not in a normal body.”
That kind of attitude is one of the reasons Navarro said Bella was named the 2012 Arthritis Hero.
“Every year, we select a child as a our hero,” she says. “Because we want to get the word out that children can suffer from arthritis.”
Bella was chosen both for her upbeat approach to her arthritis management and because her family has been actively involved with the foundation since learning of the girl’s diagnosis.
“The Arthritis Foundation has been great,” says Martha. “And through it we’ve been part of their Kids Get Arthritis Too (KGAT) program. They offer camps and activities for families. It’s helped Bella see that she’s not the only one out there with this.”
When Bella was first diagnosed, Martha says she was placed on a dizzying round of medications, including methotrexate, a common chemotherapy drug, and shots of embrel, something Martha takes for her lupus. Two years later, Bella’s only taking the shots.
“It was rough when she was first diagnosed and she was angry about it,” says Martha. “But since then, she’s been able to see some ways that she can take control of her own care.”
One of those ways was learning to give herself her shots, which she learned by practicing on her mom. Another was being part of events hosted by the Arthritis Foundation; taking part in the annual walk, says Martha, helped bring Bella out of her shell.
“Hopefully by this summer, we’ll know that she’s in medical remission,” says Martha, who reports that the last round of tests Bella had showed no signs of inflammation.
Many would call that good news, and while Martha and Bella are definitely happy with the news, they know it’s a time-out, in Martha’s words. Because they know, someday, the arthritis will rear its head again.
“We need to get the word out,” says Martha. “No child should have to suffer like this. That’s why we walk and why the work the Arthritis Foundation does is so important.”
BE PART OF THE CURE
“Anyone can walk,” says Navarro. “And we don’t have a registration fee.”
She says participants can show up on May 12 at Clear Lake City Park’s pavilion. Anyone who raises $100 or more receives an Arthritis Walk T-shirt.
Navarro encourages people to come out in groups, saying the walk has a family-friendly atmosphere, with music and activities for kids. Even the family dog is welcome.
“Seventy-six cents of every dollar raised goes to research,” says Navarro. “We really want to find a cure for this.”
For details, to register or donate, visit www.arthritis.org and click on the link for your local Arthritis Walk.
2012 ARTHRITIS WALK BAY AREA
Sat., May 12, 2012
Clear Lake City Park Pavillion
Registration begins at 8am. Walk at 9am.