Nicolai B. Baecher, MD,
Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center, Inc. (SMOC)
Arthritis is astonishingly common: one in every four Americans will suffer from a form of joint inflammation, pain and stiffness, sometimes beginning in early childhood. In the military community, that percentage rises to one in three people.
The Arthritis Foundation’s local chapter is a vital advocacy and educational group for Hampton Roads families. Its work includes connecting patients to information and community resources, organizing fundraising events, lobbying for legislation to benefit patients, hosting support groups, and sending children with arthritis to special summer camps.
“The Foundation is critical to research funding, which has aided in the treatment options that I am able to offer to my patients,” says Dr. Nicolai Baecher, an Orthopaedic Hand & Upper Extremity Surgeon with SMOC. “Supporting it is one way I can ensure research and more opportunities for treatment continue – and that one day a cure will arise.”
As a regular supporter of the nonprofit, Dr. Baecher was this year’s Orthopaedic Medical Honoree for its annual Jingle Bell Run; SMOC was the event’s presenting sponsor and entered its “Jingle Joggers” team. “I am very proud to help raise money for such a good cause,” he says.
In its many varieties, arthritis effects more than 52 million Americans and is the leading cause of disability for adults. In Virginia alone, 1.6 million people struggle with the chronic disease, including 7,200 kids.
While there is still no cure, new treatments and surgical techniques can make a dramatic difference in patients’ lives. The Arthritis Foundation has invested half a billion dollars in research to date, leading to the first biologics for a number of disease types.
“Arthritis is everywhere, and it impacts entire families,” notes Kimberly Twine, Development Manager for the Arthritis Foundation’s Virginia Beach office. “Our mission is bold. We fight to cure arthritis, and our local programs provide personalized help for patients.”
One current effort is tailor-made for the Hampton Roads community. The Foundation is leading a national push for additional Department of Defense funding to investigate a higher incidence of arthritis in active duty service members and veterans. For example, osteoarthritis rates are 26 percent higher in the under-20 age group as compared to the general population.
Factors such as carrying heavy equipment, undergoing rigorous training and experiencing combat injuries – including shock waves from bomb blasts – may contribute to early joint damage. Furthermore, post-traumatic osteoarthritis can be severely debilitating.
After years of focusing more on rheumatoid arthritis, the Foundation also has pivoted to concentrate on osteoarthritis, which accounts for more than 25 percent of all arthritis-related health care visits. “We are hoping and expecting to see major developments in new therapies for osteoarthritis, as has happened with rheumatoid arthritis,” Twine says.
To raise money for its work, the local chapter hosts the Jingle Bell Run each November, also an opportunity to educate families on preventive measures such as regular exercise, a healthy diet with anti-inflammatory foods, necessary weight loss and proper footwear.
Other annual events include several walks, family days with kids’ activities, and the popular Beef, Bourbon and Blues festival in February with dinner, dessert, drinks, live music and an auction. Juvenile Arthritis summer camps held in Charlottesville allow kids and teens to connect, learn to manage their disease and try fun new activities.
Additionally, the Hampton Roads office recently launched a patient support group in Chesapeake, the first step toward its goal of running groups in each of the region’s seven cities.
“Arthritis places a huge physical, emotional and financial burden on families,” Twine says. “We are happy to be here to help lift some of those away.”
For more information, visit arthritis.org/virginia.