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Walking toward a cure

Event: Hundreds gather at ‘Let’s Move Together’ walk in Six Flags Magic Mountain to raise money

Posted: May 16, 2010 11:01 p.m.
Updated: May 17, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Savanna O'Neil, left, and her cousin, youth honoree Taylor McLaughlin, center, walk with Taylor's father, Garrett, during the "Let's Move Together" Magic Mountain Arthritis Walk on Sunday. The walk is meant to raise arthritis awareness, and how it can affect people of any age.

 

A carnival atmosphere, replete with face painting and performers in superhero costumes, provided a lively backdrop for the Arthritis Foundation’s “Let’s Move Together” Magic Mountain Arthritis Walk held Sunday, at Six Flags Magic Mountain.

Hundreds of walkers of all ages turned up for the event. Organizers estimate that approximately $250,000 was taken in. The funds will go toward research, education programs for people living with the disease, and advocacy.

Rheumatologist Dr. Stephen White noted walks such as these are mainly so to raise awareness and educate the public.

“My goal is to have people aware of arthritis and how important it is and how much damage it can do,” he said. “We need a lot more research (on) ways to deal with it and prevent it.”

The event started at 9 a.m. and ran until 11 a.m. Participants had the option of walking a 1-mile or 3-mile course, which took them through the Six Flags park.

Many of the attendees were either afflicted with some form of arthritis or had family members who are struggling with it. The disease impacts more than 46 million adults and nearly 300,000 children.

A group of 25 people came out to support 5-year-old Jake Anderson, who was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, or JRA, when he was 14 months old.

Allison Anderson, Jake’s mother, noted that the disease has been life-changing for her son and her family.

“It started out with him not being able to move his knee or his wrist,” she said. “He’s been on multiple medications.”

Jake underwent four-and-a-half years of physical therapy, and still receives weekly injections.

“He tries to be really brave,” Anderson said. “Weekends come and he knows (his injections) are coming up and he gets a little stressed as that’s approaching.”

The Anderson family has received some support from various organizations and companies, but financial hardships due to medications have taken a toll.

“When I was told ‘no’ by the insurance company, that’s when I knew we were in for the long haul,” she said. “When the insurance wouldn’t pay for the physical therapy, that was just unbelievable to me. Here I have 14-month-old who can’t walk. Thank God for the state programs because it would’ve bankrupted us to have to pay.”

Jake still visits a doctor every eight weeks for blood work and to ensure his medication is not affecting his liver.

“To look at him, you’d think he’s a normal kid, but he’s definitely had more doctor’s appointments and blood work than most adults,” Anderson said.

Jake’s supporters sported bright orange T-shirts with “Jammin’ Jake and His Buddies” emblazoned across them. In smaller font, it read: “Kids get arthritis too.”

Enlightening the public of the misconception that arthritis is something reserved for geriatrics is an important part of the walks.

Before her son was diagnosed, Anderson said she knew nothing of the disease.

“I thought it was a disease that old people get,” she said. “It was shocking to find out that children (as young as Jake) could get it. I had no idea and most people have no idea.”

Mike Wilson, of Stevenson Ranch ,donned a Jammin’ Jake T-shirt and said that events such as these were a step in the right direction.

“It means a lot to have all these people come out and donate and do what they do for these children,” he said. “It’s a difficult disease and it’s a good cause and I’m glad it’s gotten bigger and I hope it gets bigger every year.”

Wilson was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis about a year ago. The 40-year-old said that he is forced to deal with pain in his joints and bones.

“Things just never feel right,” he said. “It’s harder on everybody because it’s harder for me. It has an adverse affect. It’s a cure I hope we find soon.”

Community support came in the form of a sea of faces, all hoping to lend whatever help they can.

WalMart employees such as Garry Richardson showed up in support of the program.

“No one deserves to go through pain, no one deserves to suffer,” he said. “I’m just here to show support and say, ‘Hey, you’re not alone.’”

Taylor McLaughlin, a 7-year-old with JRA, was the walk’s Youth Walk Honoree. She expressed her gratitude at the turn out.

“It means so much to me for us to find a cure,” she said.

Her mother Beth and father Garrett accompanied the vibrant young girl on the walk.

“She inspires me everyday with her courageousness,” Beth McLaughlin said.

Her parents said that Taylor’s condition has allowed the young girl to become more accommodating of other people with disabilities.

“She’s so accepting of people,” Garrett McLaughlin said.

Many of Jake’s and Taylor’s groups noted that the children’s struggles have emboldened them in the fight against arthritis.

“I’ve learned that he can have a disease but the disease cannot have him,” Allison Anderson said.

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