A Multi-Generational Family Affair

This family made it possible for Montana children to get care without leaving the state.

By Allison Wilcosky | May 22, 2024
Willi Schmidt’s grandmother struggled with osteoarthritis in her later years, and his mother developed it when she was older. But it wasn’t until his young wife developed rheumatoid arthritis about 25 years ago — right after their daughter was born — that he began to understand the implications of rheumatic conditions among young adults and children.

Around the time his wife was diagnosed, they went to a luncheon held by the Arthritis Foundation in Denver, he recalls. “A gal who was almost the same age as my wife — her body was not receptive to any of the medications. She was probably in her early 30s and already had a couple of joints in her hands replaced. She couldn't hold her children because the weight was too much for her to bear.”

It brought home the importance of supporting people living with arthritis and the Arthritis Foundation for its commitment to improving their lives through research, advocacy and resources.

So when the family foundation that Willi represents had an opportunity to help children in Montana receive arthritis care without leaving the state, it was an easy decision.

“Too Good To Pass Up”
Thanks to the private Ludlow-Griffith Foundation, started in the 1980s by Willi’s grandparents and now overseen by several of their descendants, Montana has its first pediatric rheumatologist in years.
"We’ve contributed to the Arthritis Foundation for a long, long time, and that was due to my grandmother’s affliction, and we’ve always found little niches that have been impactful,” says Willi. “We've always felt that if we have confidence in the organization, we'll give unrestricted funds and let them put those to use. But this was too good an opportunity to pass up.”

Until this year, Montana had been one of seven states in the country without a pediatric rheumatologist. In 2020, Dr. Julie Campbell was selected as a beneficiary of the fellowship. As part of the Targeted Rural and Underserved Track (TRUST) opportunity, Dr. Campbell was matched with a rural community that needed her skills. During her residency, Dr. Campbell worked with several pediatric rheumatology researchers on different projects, including one that looked at the onset of psoriasis in children, and another focusing on the onset of juvenile idiopathic arthritis in infants 12 months and younger.

Even better, Dr. Campbell was a Montana native who was interested in returning home. This year, her practice was established in Missoula, and she has been busy with a full slate of patients.

“The fact that Dr. Campbell was a native Montanan and would look for the opportunity to come back to her home state was compelling to us,” Willi says. “It's unfortunate that there's that need and that demand,” he adds. “It just shows you how under-served some of these populations are. But I'm much more a glass-half-full kind of guy; it's great that now they do have somebody here who can meet those needs for the kids and for the family.”

Having a pediatric rheumatologist in Montana dramatically improves care for children and their families who previously had to travel to another state — and for those seeking a diagnosis.
“The uncertainty and trying to find out what’s going on and getting that diagnosis is important,” he says.

Continuing a Tradition
The Ludlow-Griffith Foundation has had a long history of philanthropy. “My grandfather was a banker and he and my grandmother felt it was important to give back to the community that had been so good to them through the bank for all the years,” says Willi. “There’s four general areas that we have contributed to that we’ve felt are important and impacted our family,” including health and sciences, education, social services and conservation. Originally, the family focused on philanthropic efforts in the Denver area, but when Willi’s family and his mother moved to Montana, its reach spread.

The family is excited to see the effect of Dr. Campbell’s presence in the Montana community, but they know that there’s still more work to do, Willi says.

“I suppose most foundations sort of have their niche and what they want to focus on,” he says of giving back. “But if somebody hasn't and is looking for something new, there's lots of medical issues going on — especially in the rheumatoid and the pediatric rheumatoid arthritis space.”
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