South County Beat: Foundation seeks cure for arthritis

Nightengayles@aol.comAugust 23, 2011 

August is Arthritis Advocacy Month, and the Arthritis Foundation is advocating for all the myriad types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid, fibromyalgia and lupus.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease that causes stiffness, swelling, pain and limitations in the motion and function of joints. It can affect any joint, but more often involves the small joints of the feet and hands and can start in childhood, when it’s called juvenile arthritis.

Natascha Skerczak is program director at the Santa Barbara Arthritis Foundation office, the nearest office to San Luis Obispo County. She suffered stiffness and soreness in all joints, severe fever and rash, and was hospitalized for two weeks before being diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

She was 12. Now, at age 25, she controls the disease through medication and physical activity. Medication is usually needed, as the disease can destroy one’s joints over time. Rheumatoid arthritis is classified as an autoimmune disease, because some cells in the immune system do not work properly.

Fran Woeste of Arroyo Grande describes how her osteoarthritis “travels” around her body. The worst is in her lower back and neck. This week her back is acting up and she is having trouble tying her shoes.

Woeste, who turns 80 in March and has had five children, says that aches and pains are “kind of part of life. As we get old, we have to expect not always to feel 100 percent.”

“I’m not into heavy drugs,” she said, preferring to walk on her treadmill, do stretching exercises and go to arthritis exercise class. “The class gives me more pep.”

Mel Bieghler of Arroyo Grande, at age 86, has survived two hip replacements and a recent shoulder replacement because of osteoarthritis. He thinks it could have been caused by heavy lifting he did during his careers as a contractor and running distributorships for high-tech coatings.

Both of his hips were replaced during the late 1980s and have held up all these years. He attributes this to always having exercised and walked.

Recently his shoulder was becoming what he described as “bone on bone.”

Bieghler was back in his arthritis exercise class within two weeks of his shoulder replacement. He walks regularly, usually with his dog, Buddy, throwing the ball at the park, or walking the Grover Beach boardwalk. He also walks his treadmill and does home exercise for his arms and shoulders.

“One of the fortunate things I have going for me is my mind and enthusiasm for life,” he said.

He enjoys the senior exercise classes for the exercise and also the “many interesting people that attend … and who have very positive attitudes and senses of humor,” he added.

Jennifer Ziegler, a program director with the Arthritis Foundation, said “Arthritis advocacy is so important to ensure that our policymakers understand the severity of this chronic, debilitating disease.”

They need to “know that 50 million Americans, including 300,000 children, are affected by arthritis and related rheumatic diseases.”

She continued, “Our legislators need to know that funding arthritis research and programming, like the Arthritis Foundation Exercise Program, is vital to help prevent and control arthritis, and to, one day, find a cure.”

For more information about arthritis or to advocate, contact Skerczak at 563-4685 or

Gayle Cuddy and Cynthia Lambert write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Cuddy at 489-1026 or

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