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Arthritis Walk Puts Hope in Motion

More than 300 participants are expected to raise $85,000 to support research and programs.

More than 300 Santa Barbara residents, many with arthritis, are expected to participate in the Arthritis Foundation’s 7th Annual Arthritis Walk on Saturday at the west campus of Santa Barbara City College.

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Heather Bliss, who has struggled with rheumatoid arthritis for nearly 20 years, is co-chairwoman of Saturday’s Santa Barbara Arthritis Walk. (Arthritis Foundation photo)

Registration opens at 8:30 a.m., opening ceremonies begin at 9 a.m. and the walk starts at 10 a.m. The Arthritis Foundation Health Expo, from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in conjunction with the walk, will educate participants on all of the latest resources and services available for arthritis. The distance of the walk is 5K (3.1 miles), with a one-mile option. The Santa Barbara Arthritis Walk is expected to raise more than $85,000 to support research and programs offered by the Arthritis Foundation.

The Arthritis Walk is open to people of all ages and athletic ability, and registrations and donations are welcome. Visit arthritiswalksb.kintera.org or call 805.563.4685 to sign up. Participants are encouraged to raise donations to benefit the Arthritis Foundation. Money raised from the walk will support arthritis research to find a cure, as well as improve the quality of life for those affected by the more than 100 forms of arthritis.

Hundreds of Arthritis Walks are taking place across the country this spring. Local sponsors for the Santa Barbara Walk include Abbott and Yardi. The Arthritis Walks nationwide are presented by Enbrel.

Arthritis is the country’s leading chronic, debilitating disease and affects one in five Americans, including more than 300,000 children. More than 300,000 people in the Tri-Counties area are affected by it.

“It’s important that people are aware of the prevalence and severity of this disease,” said Heather Bliss, co-chairwoman of the 2008 Santa Barbara Walk. “Hopefully, this walk will accomplish that as well as help us move closer to finding a cure and better treatments for arthritis.”

Bliss’ personal experience with arthritis has inspired her dedication to the foundation and its efforts. Twelve years ago, doctors told her that her arthritis would force her into a wheelchair within a decade. But on Saturday, Bliss will walk with hundreds of others to benefit the Arthritis Foundation. Heather, now 36, has struggled with the disease for nearly 20 years.

As a junior in high school, Bliss was in an accident that injured her elbow. Years later while playing volleyball, she found it difficult to straighten her arm. The pain quickly traveled to her wrists and prevented her from using her hands. Bliss was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a disease that can lead to bone and cartilage damage, joint deformities and loss of mobility. Within one year, the disease had progressed so rapidly that Bliss was struggling with everyday tasks such as walking, sitting, brushing her teeth and washing her hair. The pain was devastating, emotionally and physically, but Bliss was ready to fight back.

She immediately began an aggressive treatment regimen to take control of her arthritis. She took many experimental medications and participated in blind studies, desperately searching for any treatment that could help her life return to normal. In addition, Bliss changed her college major from physical education to nursing, determined to learn as much as she could about the disease. With the help of her mother and boyfriend, who are both nurses, four major reconstructive surgeries and the support of the Arthritis Foundation, Bliss has been able to manage her arthritis and maintain her mobility.

“If it wasn’t for the Arthritis Foundation, I would not be where I am,” Bliss said. “I feel that because of my involvement with this foundation, I have so much more knowledge, opportunity and hope.”

Jeanne David is executive director of the Santa Barbara chapter of the Arthritis Foundation.

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