Advocacy Spotlight – Erica Gerber, Virginia Chapter
Erica Gerber, an Arthritis Advocate for the Virginia Chapter, has been living with rheumatoid arthritis for more than three years.
My name is Erica Gerber and I am an Arthritis Advocate, rheumatoid arthritis patient, a volunteer, and board member for the Arthritis Foundation - Virginia Chapter. Arthritis has been a part of my life for over twenty years. My mother has been waging her own personal war with osteoarthritis for the last ten years. She has already had joint replacement surgery for her right hip and both of her knees. My father and my grandmother both have rheumatoid arthritis (RA). My grandmother has had RA in her hands since before I was born. As a child, I remember her dipping her hands in hot paraffin wax in the evenings to help sooth the pain. She struggles to control the disease by taking the drug prednisone, which over the years has poisoned her system. My father has had multiple surgeries, injections and treatments for over fifteen years trying to get the disease under control. He was 48 years old when he was diagnosed with RA. I learned at a young age that this disease was very serious, dangerous, and unpredictable. In 2002, I was diagnosed with RA after a year long battle with Lyme disease. I can’t say that I was surprised; genetically it was bound to happen sometime. I just thought that it would come later in my lifetime. Instead, I was 32 years old, a newly wed, in graduate school, and in the prime of my career. Just six months after being diagnosed I was unable to work and do basic daily functions like walking, brushing my hair, and walking my beloved dog, Maui.
I became an Arthritis Advocate with the goal of helping others by explaining how RA affected my life, and how the Arthritis Foundation has changed and improved my life. I feel arthritis is grossly misunderstood and underestimated. By my appearance you may not realize that I have arthritis. RA has already taken so much from me in only three years. It is in all of my joints, my chest bone, and even both of my eyes. The inflammation and damage to my eyes has affected my eye site in a short amount of time, and can lead to blindness. RA has taken away my ability to have children from the destruction to my body and the toxic chemotherapy drugs that I take to control the disease. Most people aren’t aware that inflammatory arthritis can affect more than just the joints and that it can be so destructive and painful. While doing destruction to the joints, it can cause such damage to other organs and the immune system. The constant inflammation can cause heart failure and shorten the lifespan on those with RA by fifteen years.
Each day I encounter a new disability and suffer another loss, but have found a way to make a difference for others by telling my story and creating awareness for arthritis in hope of getting the Arthritis Prevention, Control and Cure Act (APCCA) passed. My whole lifestyle has changed due to rheumatoid arthritis. It took over two more years of waiting and fighting for Social Security to agree that I was indeed disabled and grant me disability benefits. My friend Judy Altman, of the Arthritis Foundation Virginia Chapter, and I have coordinated three years of letter writing, emails, phone calls, and visits to Washington, DC in support of the arthritis bill. We are lucky to have secured Senator George Allen as a cosponsor of the bill. His office has been instrumental in helping us share the importance of this bill with other legislators. Currently Virginia has five cosponsors of the arthritis bill.
In 2005, the Virginia Chapter developed a program for the month of August. Our goal was to recruit more advocates in Virginia in order to send more stories to Washington, DC about the bill and to visit local congressional offices. The program is called Just 10. Ten minutes is what it might take a healthy person to jog a mile or compose a letter. For someone with arthritis, it is the amount of time that it might take to get out of a bathtub or walk a few feet to the mailbox. This program was designed to tell people that in Just 10 minutes they could make a difference for people suffering from arthritis by simply sending a
quick e-mail about the APCC bill.
Several things have enabled me to get my life back on track…the unconditional love of my husband, the Arthritis Foundation, a drug called Remicade, and most of all my dedication to help others as an arthritis advocate. I realize that for now there is no cure for RA, and that my condition will continue to progressively get worse, but that I can make a difference for others. I have a dream that one day the roller coaster ride of RA will change from pain and loss to hope and support for a brighter future with the passing of the Arthritis Prevention, Control and Cure Act. Together, we can change government and improve lives.