Jingle Bell Run in Triad targets arthritis
Jane Blackwell has battled rheumatoid arthritis for nearly half a century. She’s undergone at least a dozen surgeries, has endured troublesome side effects of medications, and constantly tolerates the low-level pain that never goes away.
But when the Triad hosts its first Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis this weekend, Blackwell plans to be there, well, with bells on.
“I just want to thank the people who show up to do this,” the 65-year-old High Point woman says. “High Point got this first Triad run, and I hope we can keep it here. It’s going to be a fun day. Everybody will be given some jingle bells, so it’ll be fun to hear them jangling through the woods.”
The event — which will include a 5K competitive run, three-mile and one-mile fun runs, and a Reindeer Dash for young children — will be held Saturday at City Lake Park in Jamestown. All proceeds will benefit the Arthritis Foundation.
The Triad’s initial Jingle Bell Run/Walk, a fundraiser that has been popular elsewhere across the country, hits especially close to home for Blackwell, who was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when she was a 20-year-old student at High Point College. The diagnosis came during a summer internship with the National Park Service in Washington, D.C.
“I was doing fine until I woke up one morning with swollen joints — my hands, my knees, my feet — and I could barely walk,” she recalls. “My supervisor took me to the hospital, and I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. The doctor said, ‘You’ll be in a wheelchair by the time you’re 30 — there’s no point to you finishing college.’ ”
Unlike osteoarthritis, or degenerative arthritis — which is a gradual degradation of the bones — rheumatoid arthritis is actually an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues.
“Rheumatoid arthritis literally eats the joints — it totally destroys them,” Blackwell explains.
In addition to joint destruction, though, the disease can also lead to organ damage and an exhaustion known as rheumatoid fatigue.
Blackwell ignored the doctor’s advice and returned to college for her senior year, a decision she says probably was beneficial to her.
“I now believe that spending my senior year in a fourth-floor dorm room without an elevator kept me going,” she says.
Exercise continues to be solid therapy for individuals with rheumatoid arthritis, but medication options have improved vastly since Blackwell’s diagnosis in 1968.
“My original treatments were gold salts, which were highly toxic,” she says. “That was very painful, but it helped till I got to the toxic level. Then I took high doses of aspirin that made my ears ring, and I took other drugs that had some nasty side effects. Then I went through a period where I had somewhat of a remission and didn’t require much medicine, but the damage I had suffered began to play havoc with my skeleton.”
At age 40, she began having surgery.
“Your joints become deformed and don’t work well, so surgery removes the bones or repairs them,” Blackwell says. “I’ve had both knees replaced, and I’ve had multiple hand surgeries and multiple foot surgeries.”
She’s also had a pacemaker implanted in her chest — rheumatoid arthritis can also impact the cardiovascular system, as well as skin and digestive complications — and has since had another surgery to replace the original pacemaker.
She did not, however, find herself in a wheelchair by age 30, nor does she need one now. And, she adds, medication options are improving.
“The good news is that in the last several years, there has been a massive amount of research on rheumatoid arthritis and all autoimmune diseases,” Blackwell says, “and at least two classifications of drugs have come out that help.”
One classification is disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), which modify the defective cells; the other is biologics such as Enbrel and Humira, which have been effective in reducing the inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
“I’ve been on Enbrel for several years, and it’s made a huge difference for me,” Blackwell says. “And I haven’t had the side effects I was having with other drugs.”
The success of the biologics highlights the importance of fundraisers such as this weekend’s Jingle Bell Run/Walk.
“These biologic drugs came about after a lot of expensive research,” Blackwell explains. “And the Arthritis Foundation gets credit, because they put 80 percent of their money into research.”
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The 2012 Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis will be held Saturday at City Lake Park in Jamestown. Registration will begin at 8 a.m., with events beginning at 9 a.m.
Events include a 5K competitive run, 3-mile and 1-mile fun runs, a Reindeer Dash for children ages 4-8, and a costume contest for children and teams.
Participants are encouraged to wear Christmas-themed costumes (or at least antlers and/or jingle bells) to get into the spirit of the season.
Entry fees are $25 for the 5K, $15 for the fun runs, and $10 for the Reindeer Dash. All proceeds will go to the Arthritis Foundation.
You can register in advance online at jinglebellruntriad.kintera.org or simply register at the event.
For more information, call (336) 404-5495.