All posts by Arthritis Foundation

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Arthritis Foundation-CARRA Transdisciplinary Research Grant Recipients

The Arthritis Foundation recently funded two new Childhood Arthritis and Rheumatology Research Alliance (CARRA) transdisciplinary research grants. Dr. Joyce Chang and Dr. Natoshia Cunningham have been awarded two years of funding for each of their projects.

Dr. Chang’s project relates to care for adolescents with chronic rheumatic diseases as they transition to adult care. Dr. Cunningham’s study will examine cognitive behavioral therapy as a way for kids with childhood-onset systemic lupus erythematosus (cSLE) to manage fatigue, pain and depression.

research grant
Joyce Chang, MD, MSCE
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Measuring Post-Transfer Outcomes and Building a Framework to Implement Structured Transition Processes Across Rheumatic Diseases

This is the first year the transdisciplinary research grants have been awarded. They are intended to support the development and implementation of research projects capable of advancing knowledge applicable to multiple pediatric rheumatic diseases. Examples of studies considered for this grant include, but are not limited to: mental health, reproductive health, implementation science, cardiovascular health, transition (between juvenile and adult rheumatic care) and telemedicine/informatics.

research grant
Natoshia Cunningham, PhD
Michigan State University

A remotely delivered CBT intervention for youth with cSLE: A multi-site patient-engaged investigation

Congratulations to the new transdisciplinary research grant awardees and thanks to our generous donors who made this program possible!

Maximum funding for these grants is $150,000 over two years. These grants run from December 1, 2019, through November 30, 2021.

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Live Yes! With Arthritis Podcast-Episode 2-Mindfulness

Living with arthritis can lead to major stress. Which can lead to more pain! It’s a vicious cycle that can leave you mentally and physically exhausted. Research suggests that mindfulness practices can help people living with chronic pain. But the idea of even practicing mindfulness and meditation to break that pain chain can be scary.

In this episode, Rebecca and Julie learn how stress impacts our bodies and our brains. They explore simple ways to introduce mindfulness into arthritis care management.

Dr. Nicole Reilly helps us understand how our bodies respond to pain and what we can do to break the cycle. She’s an integrative medicine physician who specializes in chronic pain.

So what does making mindfulness a part of your life look like?

Yoga and meditation guru Meryl Arnett teaches us techniques to get started. Introduce compassion and self-care into your day, one minute at a time.

An added bonus at the end of the podcast: Have a mindful moment with Meryl, Rebecca and Julie.

Grab a hot cup of coffee or tea and tune in!

Related Resources:


Greyson Chess Keeps Plugging Away

This 10-year-old boy from Ohio won’t let arthritis stop him from having fun, because he knows he can handle it.

Even when his juvenile arthritis is acting up and his joints hurt, Greyson Chess just keeps plugging away and rarely complains about his pain. An avid soccer player and skier, this active 10-year-old also enjoys lacrosse, basketball, snowboarding and going to the beach. During spring break earlier this year, he got to travel with his parents and two sisters, Ava and Piper, to Costa Rica. Continue reading Greyson Chess Keeps Plugging Away

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54 Million Reasons to Give on #GivingTuesday

Picture this: You’re walking through your local CVS Health store. Your hips and toes have already started burning. All you want to do is get back into your car to sit, but even that’s a challenge. As you make your way to the pain aisle, you want something — anything — to make it go away. You put a hot and cold compress into your cart. But bending down to lift the Epsom salt is going to be a challenge. Should you ask the stranger shopping next to you for help?

This is the daily reality for 1 in 4 people in the U.S. For the 54 million Americans living with arthritis, a seemingly simple trip to CVS Health to purchase essentials can be overwhelming.

Today is your chance to change that.

Today is #GivingTuesday — a moment where everyday people rally together to improve our communities and our world. Chances are that every charitable cause you care about has asked you for a donation today. The Arthritis Foundation and our partners at CVS Health take this opportunity — and responsibility — seriously. That’s why we’re asking you to think about what matters most in your life this year.


On this global day of giving, join the Arthritis Foundation and CVS Health to give the 54 million Americans living in daily pain the resources, research and recognition they need to shape a better future. CVS Health is generously matching every donation to the Arthritis Foundation on #GivingTuesday, up to $50,000.


#GivingTuesday is about more than giving just money.

It’s about giving kids with arthritis the hope and confidence to keep dreaming big and believing in themselves.

It’s about giving parents the ability to hold and hug their children without experiencing severe pain.

It’s about giving everyone the peace of mind that they’ll never be forced to quit their job or give up their life passions because pain makes it physically impossible.

It’s about sharing a fresh perspective, to better understand how severe arthritis is, how it affects many people and how we can all be supportive.

It’s about giving researchers the opportunity to discover groundbreaking new treatments, and eventually, cures, to conquer arthritis once and for all.

And today, your donation can make twice the impact — giving more people with arthritis a better future.

We’re incredibly grateful to CVS Health for consistently leading the way in bringing arthritis pain out of the shadows to spark lasting change. As the Presenting Sponsor of our Let’s Get a Grip on Arthritis campaign, they’ve donated through in-store promotions and donations. As our exclusive drugstore partner for better living, CVS Health is committed to helping our community manage arthritis through treatments, easy access to specially selected products and raising awareness of this disease nationwide.

OA Patient Guidelines

Arthritis Today’s Snapshots from the ACR Meeting: Part 3

The editors of Arthritis Today magazine were on the scene, collecting news and information to share with readers from the American College of Rheumatology’s (ACR) Annual Meeting, November 9-13, in Atlanta. Here are a few of the many interesting and enlightening research topics they learned about.

The Search for Osteoarthritis Therapies

“Novel Therapies for Osteoarthritis” included both positive and negative results. First, the not-so-great news: Marc Hochberg, MD, of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, discussed the safety results of the anti-nerve growth factor drug, tanezumab, which has received a lot of attention but hasn’t yet been reviewed for approval by the FDA. The study found that compared to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), use of tanezumab was linked to a higher rate of side effects, including rapidly progressing osteoarthritis (OA) and total joint replacement; the higher the dose of tanezumab, the higher the rate of these side effects. (Another study, also presented at the conference, found that tanezumab at the lower dose did not relieve pain much better than NSAIDs do.)

A study from Keele University in England found that an ultrasound-guided corticosteroid injection plus a short-acting anesthetic into the hip joint led to greater improvements in pain and function compared to best current treatment and no injection. But it also found that patients who received the anesthetic but no corticosteroid reported similar improvements, suggesting a placebo effect may be at play. Another study, headed by Lisa Stamp, PhD, of the University of Otago in Christchurch, New Zealand, found that nortriptyline, a tricyclic antidepressant (sometimes used to treat chronic pain), provided an insignificant reduction in pain in people with knee OA. Similarly disappointing were the results of a study led by Liana Fraenkel, MD, a rheumatology researcher at Yale School of Medicine, which found that cognitive behavioral therapy is not ‘non inferior’ to meloxicam at reducing pain and disability from knee OA, suggesting that some patient may have to continue taking NSAIDs long-term. (NSAIDs are known to increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and serious GI problems.)

Now for the positive results: One study found that a topical containing 5% capsaicin (the active component of chili peppers) for 1 hour a day for 4 consecutive days was better at relieving OA knee pain than topicals with 1% or no capsaicin, and the effect lasted up to three months. Those who received the 5% mixture reported a little more irritation or pain, but it subsided a bit each consecutive day. A second study found that a joint injection of a drug called sprifermin (a synthesized fibroblast growth factor) helped maintain cartilage thickness after three years in patients at high risk of developing knee OA compared to similar patients who did not get sprifermin. –ANDREA KANE

Patient Partner Perspective: Nick Steen is a veteran who lives with osteoarthritis. He wants to encourage others with OA to understand how important physical activity is to managing OA symptoms and pain. He attended several sessions about OA and heard this echoed in each session.

 “Physical activity is a common theme in all the sessions I’ve attended, when it comes to what’s the best treatment for OA.” – Nick Steen

Nick has been trying to increase his level of physical activity to manage OA, including participating in cross fit training, and reports it has made a big difference.

The Effects on Knee OA of Sitting Too Much

The time we spend sitting each day has increased by nearly an hour between 2008 to 2016. A study presented by Dana Voinier, a researcher at the University of Delaware, and colleagues sought to discern whether leisure sitting – like watching TV –and whether sitting at work worsened knee OA over two years. The researchers found that spending at least four hours of leisure time sitting may increase the risk of worsening knee OA as seen on X-rays. They also learned that there is additional concern for those who primarily sit at work, and they recommend reducing overall time spent sitting. –BRYAN D. VARGO

Patient Partner Perspective: Raquel Masco lives with osteoarthritis and learned about the latest research and treatments in several sessions related to OA – including one on reconstruction of the knee, wearable technologies and the release of new OA treatment guidelines.

 “OA causes pain that is hard to touch, even with meds, at least for me.” – Raquel Masco

It was interesting to learn that a wearable device can be effective to help increase physical activity, which I also learned is the best treatment for OA. Many of the other patient partners and I found that virtual reality can also be used in treating patients with arthritis to help with pain and improve physical activity.

Walking Speed May Affect Mortality With Knee OA

Research presented by Hiral Master, PhD, looked at whether there is an association between walking speed and mortality risk in middle-aged adults younger than 65 at risk of or with existing knee OA. The study determined that walking more slowly than 1.22 meters per second during a 20-meter walk test – the minimum speed and typical distance required to cross a street with a timed crosswalk – is associated with a higher risk of mortality at theinitial testing. However, those who had a meaningful decline in walking speed at the one-year follow up did not have any greater risk of mortality, suggesting that there is a threshold for determining risk. – BRYAN D. VARGO


OA Patient Guidelines

Arthritis Today’s Snapshots from the ACR Meeting: Part 2

The editors of Arthritis Today magazine were on the scene, collecting news and information to share with readers from the American College of Rheumatology’s (ACR) Annual Meeting, November 9-13, in Atlanta. Here are a few of the many interesting and enlightening research topics they learned about.

Genes Play a Role in Disease Changes in Pregnancy
What do women with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) expect when they are expecting? The rule of thumb has long been that RA goes quiet during pregnancy but flares after delivery. But that’s not true for everyone, and researchers in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Oakland, California, are trying to figure out why. In two small studies, they looked at gene expression profiles of women with RA who had similar disease activity pre-pregnancy, and then again during the third trimester and at three months post-partum. They compared these gene profiles to those of healthy women. Researchers found a pre-pregnancy genetic signature that predicted improvement or worsening during pregnancy. They also found differences between the RA and healthy groups in gene expression during the post-partum period. –MARCY O’KOON

Patient Partner Perspective: Shannan O’Hara-Levi attended a couple sessions related to rheumatic conditions and pregnancy. As a patient of child-bearing age, she is concerned about having enough resources and information about family planning with RA but also how any reproductive health legislation impacts rheumatology patients.

 “Rheumatology patients and their rheumatologists need to strengthen their conversations about their reproductive health.” –Shannan O’Hara

Rheumatology patients who plan their pregnancies have better outcomes according to some of the research she heard at ACR, so Shannan wants other patients with RA like her to understand how vital it is to communicate and discuss any family planning with their doctors. She says this states the case for even more support for patient engagement in the decision-making of health care for arthritis.

Is Remission That Important Anyway?

A presentation by members of EULAR (the European League Against Rheumatism), deconstructed remission – that is, the absence of disease activity in inflammatory types of arthritis (such as RA). Titled “The Road to Remission is Long and Bumpy but Worth It in the End,” the presenters first examined how remission is measured. (Doctors use 17 different combinations of function scales, blood markers and joint exam results.) Another presenter looked at the benefits of remission, including better function, less disability and joint damage and longer overall survival – but noted that there is a trade-off between the aggressive treatment needed to achieve remission (more medication, more doctor visits and tests) and the benefits of achieving it. A third presenter examined whether certain medications are better for achieving remission, or if it’s the overall strategy that counts. (Hint: it’s the strategy.) And the last presenter took a look in the crystal ball to see if doctors will be able to predict remission using molecular changes, similar to methods used for certain types of cancer. The answer? Yes, but not yet. –ANDREA KANE

Machine Learning Used to Predict Flares
Doctors cannot predict which RA patients can successfully taper or stop biologics. A group of researchers set out to determine whether a machine could do better. They designed a computer algorithm that used real-world patient clinical data and analyzed variables, such as percentage change in biologic dose, disease activity, disease duration and levels of inflammatory markers. They found that a machine could learn to predict flares after tapering and saw its performance improve as more patients’ clinical data was added. The aim is one day to provide physicians with a reliable tool for guiding decisions about tapering medication. – MARCY O’KOON

Why Sky-High Biologic Prices?
Public spending in the U.S. on biologics almost doubled between 2012 and 2016 due mostly to drug price hikes over those years – not to more people getting access to them, one study found. Natalie McCormick, PhD, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School and Mass General Hospital, and her team analyzed data from Medicare (Parts B and D) and Medicaid. In one analysis, for example, they determined that price increases for 11 biologics accounted for 56% ($1.7 billion) of the increased spending (after adjusting for inflation) in Medicare Part D, compared to 37% ($1.1 billion) for an increase in new users. Adalimumab (Humira) and etanercept (Enbrel), two of the oldest and most widely prescribed biologics, had the biggest increases in price. ––ANDREA KANE

Tapering Biologics When They’re Hard to Get
In the United States, people who take biologics and reach remission are often eager to taper off the medication, but in New Zealand, the decision is difficult, even though it’s recommended by EULAR. In her abstract session, “Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients’ Perspectives on Tapering of Biologics,” Lisa Stamp, PhD, of the University of Otago in Christchurch, explained that fewer biologics are available to people with inflammatory arthritis in New Zealand, where a government agency decides which drugs are subsidized. Patients must try and fail numerous other medications (from methotrexate to gold shots) for many months before qualifying for a subsidized biologic. “These people have been through a lot to get to a biologic,” Stamp said. As a result, they were anxious that if they tapered off it, they wouldn’t be able to get it again if their disease worsened. However, not having to get injections or infusions “makes you feel like you’re well.” Participants wanted to make the decision to taper with their rheumatologist, but better tools are needed to help patients make the decision and feel assured that their needs would be addressed. –JILL TYRER

Inflammatory Arthritis Infection Risks After Joint Replacement
Despite the good safety record of nearly 1 million total hip and knee replacement surgeries performed annually in the U.S., they are not without risk, including infections. A study presented by Susan Goodman, MD, director of the Integrative Rheumatology and Orthopedics Center of Excellence and the medical chief of the Combined Arthritis Program at the Hospital for Special Surgery, showed that rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients are at a higher risk of developing a prosthetic joint infection compared to those with OA. In addition, the length of time after surgery that patients stayed at risk was longer for those with RA than OA. Dr. Goodman cited several reasons, including the use of medications such as immunosuppressants, having active RA, having disabilities, the implants themselves, tobacco use and revisions of previous implants. – BRYAN D. VARGO

Patient Partner Perspective: Laura Genoves attended this session, which brought up some major concerns for patients with RA like her.

 “Hearing that RA patients have an increased risk of infection after joint replacement surgery made me feel wary.” – Laura Genoves

Laura was glad to learn that researchers are trying to better determine what factors contribute to this increased risk of infection. People with RA must be aware of what can potentially happen post-surgery. All surgeries come with risks associated, but it’s a whole other level of risks to consider for people with RA, so Laura feels like this is definitely something patients should know and discuss with their rheumatologists.


OA Patient Guidelines

Arthritis Today’s Snapshots from the ACR Meeting: Part 1

The editors of Arthritis Today magazine were on the scene, collecting news and information to share with readers from the American College of Rheumatology’s (ACR) Annual Meeting, November 9-13, in Atlanta. Here are a few of the many interesting and enlightening research topics they learned about.

Anti-inflammatory Diet Improves Disease
Strawberries, apples, brussel sprouts on a tableThere has long been uncertainty whether diet influences disease activity in inflammatory arthritis. Two studies presented some evidence that it does. In one study, 17 patients with active rheumatoid arthritis (RA), defined as at least three tender and three swollen joints, followed an anti-inflammatory diet for two weeks. Blood tests before, during and after measured oxylipins, molecules involved in inflammation, pain and other cellular functions. The diet added turmeric, antioxidants, prebiotics and probiotics. It eliminated pro-inflammatory items, such as lactose (found in diary), gluten and red meat, and improved the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. The subjects were found to have good diet adherence. After 14 days, a range of disease measures were significantly lower, and tests showed correlation with changes in blood levels of the oxylipins. The authors concluded that diet has the potential to complement medication and improve quality of life for patients with RA.  –MARCY O’KOON

Depression and Resilience
Inflammation has been shown to have a role in depression, but does that make depression an inflammatory disorder? No, emphasized Andrew Miller, MD, a researcher in Emory School of Medicine’s psychiatry department. Depression may be associated with the inflammation that’s at the heart of inflammatory diseases like rheumatic and psoriatic arthritis and lupus, but it’s not associated in otherwise healthy people with depression. (Biologics that have been used to target inflammation in depression have had no effect.)

In the same session, “Mechanisms & Mediators of Psychiatric Comorbidity in Rheumatology,” Afton Hassett, a psychologist and researcher in the University of Michigan’s Chronic Fatigue and Pain Research Center, explored the role of resilience in people with arthritis and pain. People with rheumatic diseases tend to have a more negative outlook than “healthy” people do, but positive emotions – which are key to resilience – are associated with less pain, less need for medications, earlier discharge from the hospital and other positive outcomes. The good news is that resilience can be learned. Hassett described some exercises, including these three: 1) Pick a future point, such as one or five years from now, and imagine being your best self, living to your full potential, then write about it in detail. 2) Every day write down three things for which you are grateful; as time goes on, you’ll become aware of even smaller things to appreciate. 3) Pick a day this week and do five kind things for others and one kind thing for yourself. – JILL TYRER

Patient Partner Perspective: Stacy Courtnay attended this session on pain, depression and anxiety and said it really resonated with her.

 “The more connections you have with people living in a similar situation as you, the better mental and emotional health you will have. Support groups are the key to managing your overall well-being.” – Stacy Courtnay

Stacy says “we need the support of each other” and being involved in the Arthritis Foundation has really helped her to make these connections since it is a big part of the mission. The Live Yes! Arthritis Network has played a huge role in helping her to get connected with people who understand her struggles.

The Problem of Sleeplessness
It’s no surprise to people with arthritis that pain interferes with sleep; research shows that the more significant correlation is that sleeplessness exacerbates pain. Anna Kratz, PhD, of the University of Michigan, and Daniel Whibley, PhD, of the University of Aberdeen in the U.K., discussed effects of poor sleep on people with arthritis and treatments in a session called “No More Counting Sheep: Evidence-Based Sleep Management.” (In fact, Whibley said, it takes 20 minutes longer to fall asleep by counting sheep than by using relaxing visualization.) He discussed the role of the circadian rhythm in different people’s sleeping patterns (“morning larks” vs. “night owls”) and the architecture of a night’s sleep (it’s normal to wake up a couple of times during the night). And he said people with rheumatic diseases typically have poor “sleep efficiency” – they spend more time lying awake relative to sleeping than other people do. Sleep deprivation leads to mental impairments as well as pain and fatigue, and people with sleep problems should be screened for the cause, such as obstructive sleep apnea or chronic insomnia – both of which are common among people with arthritis – or side effects of opioids or other medications.

Good sleep hygiene (getting regular exercise; keeping a dark, quiet bedroom; keeping a regular sleeping schedule; shutting off blue-light electronics, etc.) helps many people, but people with rheumatic disease may need more help. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine discourages the use of sleep medications and recommends cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTi) as a first-line treatment. In the U.S., however, it’s hard to find people qualified to practice CBTi. (Whibley and Kratz suggested rheumatology practices have someone trained in CBTi.) “The most important thing is to be regular in your sleep-waking patterns, and that includes weekends,” Whibley said. If you don’t sleep well, seek help. “Don’t assume that poor sleep in part of the condition.” –JILL TYRER

Patient Partner Perspective: Cheryl Crow attended this session on sleep, which she stated was a very informative and engaging session. She was surprised by some of the information she learned when it comes to sleep and the rheumatic disease population. Cheryl said having a patient on this sleep panel sharing her story was powerful to witness as a patient herself. 

“Insomnia and obstructive sleep apneas are much more common in the rheumatic disease population than in the average person, and that 37-50% have some sort of disorder. I had no idea. Makes me want to get assessed.” – Cheryl Crow

She was moved to see that so many rheumatology professionals were in the room asking questions to get the patient perspective, demonstrating that patient engagement is crucial in providing better patient care.

Standard PRO Measures Miss Younger Patients
Patient-reported outcome measures (PROMs) are routinely used by doctors as well as in research, but Erika Mosor, a researcher at the Medical University of Vienna, Austria, found that the standard measures may not get a true view of younger patients. In her session, “When You Read This, You Really Feel Old: Perspectives of Young People with Inflammatory Arthritis on Patient Reported Outcome Measures from a European Qualitative Study,” she reported that patients aged 18 to 35 said the PROMs of daily functioning and other issues “seem like they’re for old people.” They don’t address technology, childcare, social life, sex, loss of friends and other issues relevant to younger patients. Because their concerns are overlooked, results may be skewed so these patients appear to be doing better than they are; some patients said they considered marking worse scores just to get their concerns recognized. PROMs should be more tailored to patients so they can be used more effectively in shared decision-making, Mosor said. – JILL TYRER


Meet Sabina Ratner: One of Our Newest Foundation Sponsored Fellows!

Because access to care is not always guaranteed, we’ve been working to help close the gap on the nation’s rheumatologist shortage through our fellowship initiative. This year we announced four new fellowship awards . One of those grants was offered to SUNY Downstate Medical Center, which recently announced their fellowship has been awarded to Dr. Sabina Ratner.

Dr. Ratner will be a welcome addition to this program. She began her undergraduate training at Brooklyn College, followed by graduate training as a physician’s assistant (PA) at SUNY Downstate in NY. She earned her medical degree from American University of Antigua College of Medicine in Antigua and Barbuda.

Dr. Ratner explains how she became interested in rheumatology:

As we go through life, events that may be deemed unfortunate often result in serendipitous moments. It wasn’t until a terrible accident where I was hit by a car that I realized I had a second chance at life and found my true calling.

I worked as a PA at NY Methodist Hospital for seven years before my accident. During my employment, I covered a variety of services, and I discovered that there were many facets to medicine that were fascinating, stimulating and rewarding. My experiences helped sharpen my clinical acumen and appreciation and understanding of medicine. Initially, I worked with the department of surgery, which included general surgery and orthopedics. My duties included patient care in the clinic and floors, emergency room admissions, pre- and post-operative care and counseling patients. As a PA, I was inspired by the passion and wisdom of the people I worked with. My colleagues recognized my aptitude for medicine and strongly encouraged me to get my medical degree.

After my accident, I went to rehab for physical therapy for my left leg and ankle. There, I met many people who were suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, back pain and hip and other joint problems. I empathized with these patients. Seeing people in pain and losing their functional mobility made me realize I wanted to seek a profession where I could help alleviate the pain and suffering of others. I found the rehab experience to be very rewarding and realized that, with proper treatment, people were able to regain their function, mobility and independence. My interest grew more and more for the field of rheumatology, so I went back to school and earned my medical degree.

The next stage of this journey was medical residency. I chose to explore the field of rheumatology further and opted to take as many electives as I could to learn more about this field. The experience further piqued my interest and helped me realize how fascinating and intricate rheumatology is.

There are many reasons why I want to join the field of rheumatology. I find it to be a very diverse field that is rapidly evolving and allows for the treatment of a broad range of conditions. Also, it is a specialty that can be challenging because a qualified physician must be able to treat different disease processes, solving medical mysteries. It is exciting and gratifying to help improve the quality of lives of others. I want to train and learn from the dedicated experts, which will give me the opportunity to broaden my understanding and knowledge about the disease progression and treatment with new agents that prevent further destruction in the body.

While the clinical experience is important to me, I’m also interested in pursuing biomedical research. Fundamentally, I am intrigued by the immune system. With the advances in disease-modifying agents and with new immunotherapies, we can improve patients’ lives. That’s why I hope to follow my passion and become a rheumatologist, because to me it’s very rewarding to see my patients get back to their routine and enjoy their life.

Thanks to the generosity of our donors, Dr. Ratner will be able to follow her dreams and become a valuable addition to the number of new rheumatologists through this fellowship program.


Sisters by Birth, Friends by Choice

Lauren McAllister, Kristen’s big sister, found her role and urges other JA siblings to do the same.

“We’re lucky to be sisters, but we choose to be best friends,” says Lauren McAllister of her relationship with her sister, Kristen McAllister.

(L-R) Kristen & Lauren

Kristen began a long and painful journey with juvenile idiopathic arthritis 15 years ago, when she was 10 years old and Lauren was 12. It hasn’t been an easy road.

“It is devastating to watch someone you love have to fight a battle that doesn’t have a cure,” says Lauren. “Where the medications that are supposed to help don’t always help. To have the doctors who are supposed to ‘fix you’ not know what to do. It’s a feeling of helplessness. Not only can I not help her, but neither can the physicians who are supposed to be the ‘fixers.’”

Previously an active child, Kristen had to give up dancing, cheerleading and gymnastics — activities that she had grown up participating in with Lauren.

“Growing up, she would follow in my footsteps and do the same activities I did,” says Lauren. “We started dance, then gymnastics, which we got to do together. It was neat to have those experiences together.”

But arthritis changed their lives. Kristen could no longer follow in Lauren’s footsteps.

“I didn’t know how to walk her through it. I didn’t know what the right words were, and I couldn’t take the pain away,” Lauren says.

Kristen had to choose her own path in this challenging landscape, with Lauren by her side.

“She is unstoppable,” says Lauren. “She has made up in her mind that she’s not going to let this hold her back from doing the things she loves and wants to do. As a family, we’ve backed her 100%. We make it work. She will get out of her wheelchair and crawl upstairs in a restaurant, and we’ll bring the wheelchair around so she can get right back in it.”

(L-R) Lauren & Kristen take a stroll

Lauren goes on: “Something I really admire about her is that she has every reason under the sun to take herself out of situations, not partake in activities or go certain places because it’s harder or inconvenient. But she won’t allow herself to live that way. We’ve been so fortunate with the support of our friends and extended family. We’ve all just wanted her to experience the life a 25-year-old should experience.”

While Lauren and Kristen have chosen to be sisters, they’ve also chosen to take a specific outlook on life. “We choose joy,” says Lauren.

“It’s harder to do on some days than others, and it may be weeks or months later before you find it. But in every situation, we try to find the joy in it. We’ve been through some pretty dark times. But we’ve chosen joy. If you keep looking for it, you’ll eventually find it.”

Arthritis is a life-altering disease for 54 million Americans like Kristen and Lauren. You can help conquer it on Giving Tuesday. Your generous donation fuels life-changing research and resources right away.

Make a Donation. Change the future of arthritis.