One month after her diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, Christine Cook turned to the Central Missouri Branch of the Arthritis Foundation for help.
Crystal Brady was on the other end of the line, and the two talked for more than a hour.
“I asked her if there would ever be a day when I wasn’t consumed with this disease,” Cook said.
Brady, director of the local branch of the Arthritis Foundation, told Cook that at first, people diagnosed with arthritis may identify themselves with the disease. But they eventually realize that arthritis is just one aspect of their lives. Brady assured Cook that she could still live a healthy and productive life.
Cook, 30, said that while her doctors were wonderful, they did not have time to discuss all of her personal concerns. It was invaluable, Cook said, to have someone knowledgeable like Brady to talk with.
“It gave me a sense of hope, and that’s really what I needed at the time,” Cook said.
Brady has learned a lot about arthritis since she started volunteering with the Arthritis Foundation in Kansas City in 1995. She has learned that there are more than 100 types of arthritis that affect people of all ages. She learned that children and young mothers are diagnosed with the disease. She learned what it means for there to be no cure for arthritis.
“That’s the hardest part,” Brady said. “Learning about these children who have arthritis who will suffer through this disease for the rest of their lives.”
Brady learned that arthritis is not just about aches and pains, but about how people with the disease must modify their lifestyles. Exercise helps improve many symptoms, but those with arthritis must also learn to pace themselves. She talks about an MU sophomore with rheumatoid arthritis who has been active in the Arthritis Foundation but was too overwhelmed with final exams to help with a fundraiser.
“Their heart, their desire is there,” Brady said, “but physically they can’t do it.”
For Brady, helping people get the information they need to treat their arthritis is the most rewarding aspect of her job. She listens to them express their fears and frustrations and then gives them information about treating and coping with the disease in hopes that the knowledge will empower them.
Brady said she is inspired by the people she helps. Their determination gives her a reason for coming to work.
“It’s inspirational to have a young woman come in who’s just been diagnosed with arthritis who says, ‘I don’t know anything about this disease, but I’m not going to let it get me down. Tell me what I can do.’ It gives me a reason for being here. People need you here,” Brady said.
“I could talk about arthritis all day,” Brady said. “People ask me a question and then 15 minutes later, they say, ‘Thank you, but all I wanted to know was...’”
But providing mid-Missourians with the information they need to start or continue their arthritis treatments is Brady’s job. Actually, it is just one of her many jobs. Brady is the only Arthritis Foundation staff member for six counties in mid-Missouri. Her duties include fund-raising with both private donors and corporations, performing administrative duties, organizing events, recruiting volunteers and helping educate the public about arthritis. In general, she serves as a resource for mid-Missourians with arthritis and their families.
Brady comes from a Southern Baptist family with a strong belief in mission work. She hopes to pass the tradition of charity on to her three young children.
In 1995, while Brady was working in her hometown of Kansas City, her boss got her involved with the Arthritis Foundation. Her boss knew Brady was already involved in organizations such as the Multiple Sclerosis Society, Wayside Waifs and March of Dimes and enjoyed volunteering.
When her husband was transferred to Memphis in 1997, Brady became interim executive director for the Arthritis Foundation’s office there. After one year, her husband, who manages a bus company, was transferred again to Columbia.
Brady says she found herself in the right place at the right time because, with no Arthritis Foundation office in central Missouri, it was difficult for mid-Missourians to get help from the organization.
Brady said she has enjoyed working in Columbia, which she describes as a philanthropically minded community. “I knew four people when I first came to Columbia,” Brady said, “I’ve been fortunate to come into contact with people here that have given countless hours and dollars.”
Brady’s associates give her a lot of credit for getting the central Missouri branch of the Arthritis Foundation up and going.
“She took it from a basic committee and turned it into the central Missouri branch of the Arthritis Foundation, which has helped hundreds of people,” said Jill Gamlin of Atlas Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine in Fulton, who also belongs to the foundation’s Voluntary Leadership Committee.
Brady is adamant that she could not do it all alone. Her volunteer-driven organization depends on one intern from MU each semester, and she recruits an average of 50 volunteers a year.
Brady works on fundraising events such as the Jingle Bell Run. Another program is called Joints in Motion, where participants raise money by competing in a marathon. One volunteer in that program participated in a December marathon in Honolulu; two others recently left for a marathon at Disney World in Florida. Another program, The Arthritis Walk, will take place in Columbia in May. Altogether, these programs raise about $36,000 per year.
Brady said that fundraising is the most challenging part of her job in this time of economic uncertainty. “It is a hard time for nonprofits,” Brady said, “People want to give financially, but even large corporations are struggling.”
In 2000 and 2001, the central Missouri branch of the Arthritis Foundation raised about $130,000. In 2003, the group raised about $115,000. The chapter’s annual budget is about $140,000.
Brady also helped start the warm-water aquatics class held at the city’s Activity and Recreation Center. Since it started last January, it has grown from 10 to 40 participants. The program was created by the Arthritis Foundation and the YMCA in 1983 to help condition those with arthritis with low-impact exercises. There was not a proper facility in Columbia until the ARC was finished last December.
Donna Walz Ward, a former member of the Voluntary Leadership Committee and first chair of the charter board of the central Missouri chapter of the Arthritis Foundation, says, “She is one of the incredibly good people that do nice things for our community. It’s nice to know there’s people out there like her.”