DPH Runners Don Their Holiday Gear for the Jingle Bell Walk/Run

December 15, 2014

Between the reindeer head gear, Santa Claus get-ups and elf ears, you may not have realized the people running through downtown Atlanta this past weekend were not in a Christmas parade – they were participating in a 5K race organized by the Arthritis Foundation.

Headquartered in Atlanta, the Arthritis Foundation helps people take control of arthritis by providing public health education, pursuing public policy and legislation, and conducting evidence-based programs to improve the quality of life for those living with arthritis.  The organization is also the largest private, non-profit contributor to arthritis research in the world, funding more than $450 million in research grants since 1948.

Known as the Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis, this event is the talk of the town each holiday season not only for the participants decked out in festive outfits, but also for its noteworthy goal of raising awareness about the health impact of arthritis. 

Voted as one of the nation’s “Most Incredible Themed Races,” the Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis is an important fundraising event to garner financial donations to fight and end arthritis, which affects 50 million Americans, or roughly one in five adults.  This year’s Jingle Bell Run/Walk financial goal was to raise $130,000 through fundraising activities and donations coordinated by the event’s participants.

Contrary to popular belief, arthritis is not an “old person’s” disease.  There are more than 100 different types of arthritis that affect people of all ages.  In fact, two-thirds of people with arthritis are under the age of 65, including 300,000 children.  In Georgia, arthritis is estimated to affect more than 1.6 million adults and 9,200 children. 

“When people think of arthritis, they automatically think minor aches and pains, which is far from the truth,” said Meagan Fulmer, chief development officer for the Arthritis Foundation. “Various forms of arthritis can seriously affect joints, muscles, internal organs, eyes, and also claim the lives of nearly 10,000 people each year. This is why the Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis is so important for this community to raise funds and fight to put an end to this serious disease.”

This year’s Jingle Bell Run/Walk brought together more than 600 holiday runners, including a number of Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) employees passionate about health and ready to wear their favorite holiday ensemble for a good cause.

Susanne Koch, DPH Worksite Wellness coordinator, MS, ACSM-HFS, PES, and L’Llaina Rash, took center stage at the run by leading the warm-up session for the holiday runners.  Koch’s participation reflects her professional endeavors to keep DPH employees healthy and active in their daily life.

“The Arthritis Foundation is a huge supporter of what we are trying to accomplish within our Worksite Wellness initiatives,” she said. “This event is timed perfectly with our Holiday Survivor program which encourages our employees to get out and be active, even with the stress of the holiday season.”

Koch also participated in the Arthritis Foundation’s Jingle Bell Walk/Run to support the journey of arthritis patients and their family members, something she knows about firsthand through her mother’s personal struggle with rheumatoid arthritis.

“My mom has suffered from Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) for nearly 45 years. When she was diagnosed, little was known about the disease and how to control it,” she said. “In fact, she was told not to move a lot, which allowed her condition to worsen. She now swims and is starting Tai Chi at the age of 70. Though she struggles each day, my mother now sees how important movement is in controlling arthritis.”

Kourtney Floyd, APRN, CPNP, DPH nurse consultant for the Infectious Disease Control TB Unit, found the event to be a timely family affair that would reinforce important messages about health, wellness and learning how to be thankful among her children.

“I felt the event would be a fun way to be active with my family. My 4-year-old daughter loved the costumes and seeing Santa,” Floyd said. “Many people think arthritis is something that affects elderly people, but this run brings awareness that small children and young adults also suffer from the illness. The event reinforces we should be thankful for things we take for granted; the ability to run 3.2 miles free of joint pain is probably not something people are regularly thankful for.”

In addition to the run, the event selects a youth and medical honoree each year to recognize those living with arthritis-related conditions and community members making positive impacts in improving the wellbeing of those suffering from these illnesses.

This year’s youth honoree, Abby Parker, is an 8-year-old girl that has lived with juvenile arthritis for more than three years of her life. She is currently in 3rd grade at Carmel Elementary School in Woodstock, Georgia and takes medication to combat the joint inflammation she frequently experiences in her hands and feet.

Despite her physical struggle, Parker still maintains a positive attitude and has become a proud advocate for juvenile arthritis patients by working with the Arthritis Foundation’s juvenile arthritis program and raising money to support continued research and support services for arthritis patients.

The medical honoree of the year is Sheila Angeles-Han, M.D., pediatric rheumatologist with Children’s Hospital of Atlanta. Dr. Angeles-Han is dedicated to improving the outcomes of children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis and uveitis, an autoimmune disorder that causes vision loss due to diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.  

Dr. Angeles-Hand developed the first tool to measure visual function and vision related quality of life in children with uveitis entitled, “Effects of Youngsters’ Eyesight on Quality of Life” (EYE-Q).  As an active member of the American College of Rheumatology and the Childhood Arthritis and Rheumatology Research Alliance, she has authored several manuscripts on uveitis, presented her research at national and international conferences, and reviewed grants for the Arthritis Foundation.

Visit www.arthritis.org to learn more about the Arthritis Foundation, the Jingle Bell Run and see how you can get involved in helping improve the lifestyle of those impacted by arthritis in Georgia.  

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