Connections That Count

Haydee Sedlmeier lived to tirelessly support others on their arthritis journey.

By Anthony Williams | May 22, 2024
Haydee standing under the LOVE sculptureFor many people living with arthritis and other rheumatic diseases, connecting with others who understand what it’s like can be life-changing and inspirational. The Arthritis Foundation’s Live Yes! Connect Groups are a crucial way to feel seen and empowered. And no one embodied that connection more than Haydee Sedlmeier, who was the Foundation's director of community connections.
Sadly, Haydee passed away after a brief illness in April of 2024. While mourning our loss, we also celebrate her legacy of building connections throughout our entire community.
Haydee lived with arthritis for more than 50 years, growing up with juvenile arthritis as a child. She wrote online in a fundraiser for the Arthritis Foundation: “Imagine [going from] being a kid climbing trees to having to hang out in the library during recess because your knees hurt, and you couldn’t skip anymore.” Haydee’s rheumatoid arthritis (RA) persisted into adulthood when she also developed osteoarthritis. In her fundraiser, Haydee went on to say, “I bring a sense of humor to having to take daily medications, monthly injections, a.k.a. ‘my cocktail,’ multiple surgeries, living with pain and fatigue every day, duking it out with insurance to advocate for what I need and having a stellar health care entourage.”
Kevin Purcell, Helpline specialist at the Arthritis Foundation, remembers Haydee’s ability to connect and befriend others started with a new volunteer group he and some friends were forming. In 2006, when Kevin and his friends held a small social and educational conference in Arizona for young adults with RA and other rheumatic diseases, Haydee showed up. “And by the end of the weekend, she was like family for all who were there,” Kevin says.
Soon afterward, Kevin and his friends secured nonprofit status for a 100% volunteer-driven organization called Arthritis Introspective (AI). “It took a couple of years of asking (pestering), but Haydee agreed to join the AI board to help us train others with arthritis and related conditions to manage local support groups,” he says.
About 10 years after it started, Arthritis Introspective merged the programs they created with the Arthritis Foundation, and Haydee and Kevin continued serving the arthritis community as Foundation staff members, working together to modify the programs and further develop them.
“Haydee worked pretty much every day over the last 18 years to make a community that she was part of a better place,” Kevin shares on Facebook. “If everyone reading this — who are feeling a loss in their life, whether Haydee or someone else — puts even 5% of effort and energy that Haydee did for her community, the world would be a much better place. Let grief be your fuel.”
Jennifer Ziegler, the Arthritis Foundation’s senior director of volunteer partnerships and engagement, based in Los Angeles, recalls that Haydee began volunteering for the local Foundation office in LA in 2007, delivering speeches, giving community presentations about arthritis and making many more contributions. She says Haydee collected an Arthritis Foundation award almost every year for her volunteer work.
“Haydee was so much to so many people, including myself,” Jenn says. “She helped me become a better staff partner, as her energy, motivation and passion always oozed over. I still feel her presence. And I am motivated to work even harder to ensure her legacy continues for the arthritis community. I will miss our almost daily calls to troubleshoot, vent and laugh, all to make the Arthritis Foundation volunteer experience the best possible.”
Despite What Life Threw Her Way, Always Smiling
Haydee with colleagues at a Pathways conferenceYears ago, Haydee visited an Arthritis Foundation support group in LA, not to seek support for herself, but instead to listen, learn and create her own support group, remembers Vickie Fung, the Foundation’s senior vice president of mission and strategic initiatives. “She wanted to learn how. And with that calling in mind, Haydee started on her journey toward supporting and leading one of the longest-running Arthritis Foundation Connect Groups in the country.”
Haydee’s energy didn’t stop there, Vickie notes. “She deeply cared about people, never letting her own challenges with arthritis slow her down. Haydee’s compassion touched so many lives for the over 20 years that I’ve known her. Heaven has gained an angel in Haydee, and I am so blessed to have been part of her life journey.”
“Haydee was a force — inspiring, dedicated, an amazing colleague and a friend,” says Pam Gill, vice president of the mission team at the Arthritis Foundation. Pam first crossed paths with her several years ago when Haydee was with Arthritis Introspective. “She and Kevin Purcell served as the unstoppable duo, fostering connections and support within the arthritis community. Their genuine warmth made everyone feel like family, radiating joy, authenticity and belonging.”
Pam adds, “Haydee had a natural ability to bring joy and laughter to any situation, cherishing every moment and every person she encountered. She was always wearing a smile, regardless of what life was throwing her way.”
Helping People Feel More Connected and Empowered
“Haydee’s dedication to our Connect Groups was truly inspiring,” says Nick Turkas, senior director of the Arthritis Foundation’s patient education and community connections program. “She championed efforts to significantly improve the user experience. And the launch of virtual groups by topic expanded our reach to those who might not have access to local support.”
Haydee’s passion wasn’t just about numbers, Nick emphasizes. “The positive impact on participants was clear. They felt more connected, empowered and able to manage their arthritis because Haydee cared about them.”
Mary Michael Kelley, the Arthritis Foundation’s director of patient engagement, says what immediately grabbed her attention upon first meeting Haydee is that she never let her disease limit her. “She used the challenges that she’s experienced over the course of her life to improve the lives of others. While she couldn’t cure people’s disease, she could cure their spirit, giving them more gumption, more peace and more clarity to turn their own experiences into positives.”
“The hole she’s left is palpable,” Mary Michael concludes. “There will NEVER be another Haydee.”
While that’s true, Haydee’s legacy will live on. Her impact on our Connect Groups and in other ways will be felt for a long time to come. And our memory of her will continue to help fuel the Arthritis Foundation’s work — inspiring us to always be the best. And to do our best to serve the arthritis community.
Story of Yes

Say Yes! Share Your Story

One of the most powerful things you can do to help others living with arthritis is share your story. If you have arthritis, care for someone who does or are making an impact in the arthritis community, your experiences can help someone who may feel alone. Whether you're a patient, caregiver, donor, volunteer or researcher — you can be an inspiration by sharing your Story of Yes.

Share Your Story
Say Yes! Share Your Story

Stay in the Know. Live in the Yes.

Get involved with the arthritis community. Tell us a little about yourself and, based on your interests, you’ll receive emails packed with the latest information and resources to live your best life and connect with others.