Rachel’s Story 

Diagnosed at 3 with JA, Rachel is now pursuing a degree in nutrition. She’s an Arthritis Foundation Winterhoff Scholarship recipient and volunteers for the arthritis community.   

At the age of 3, Rachel was diagnosed with a dysfunctional immune system. Her tiny body failed to mount a response to infection. Hematology and infectious disease specialists were able to document the phenomenon but were unable to pinpoint a cause. Thus, Rachel was followed for several years by a physician whose specialty was immunology.  

Just before ninth grade, Rachel’s fingers appeared to be curving into a funny “s” shape and looked different than those of anyone else she knew. A referral to orthopedics was made to investigate any abnormality in the bone structure of her hands, yet x-rays failed to unveil any evidence of a defect. When she began having pain in her feet, knees and hips that made walking difficult, Rachel was promptly referred to rheumatology.  

Dr. Sanjay Chabra took one look at her disfigured fingers and was able to determine what extensive blood work confirmed. At the age of 14, Rachel was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. She was immediately fitted for bulky braces to prevent further damage to her fingers. She also began aggressive treatment in the form of Humira injections, oral methotrexate and prednisone to halt the progression of this insidious disease. 

RA impaired her manual dexterity, and the threat of disability weighed heavily. Stunned, she found refuge in service activities. Directing her focus externally has allowed Rachel to log more than 2,300 volunteer hours since 2012. In addition, she has raised a total of nearly $19,000 for the benefit of several organizations. She’s met with both state and federal legislators as an advocate for the Arthritis Foundation to spread awareness of the challenges faced by those with chronic conditions. In 2014, she received an Arthritis Foundation travel award to participate in the National Advocacy Conference in Washington, DC. There, she visited the offices of her local congressman and California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, to discuss the Foundation’s legislative priorities, including programs to increase access to qualified specialists and affordable therapy. The training that the Foundation provided was invaluable and helped her find her voice to tell her story with confidence.  

Rachel lives in Southern California yet is currently attending Cal Poly San Luis Obispo pursuing a degree in nutrition. Seizing the opportunity for further service, her mission is to help patients use food as an adjunctive therapy in the management or prevention of chronic illness. At Cal Poly, she became a member of Alpha Omicron Pi (AOII). Conveniently, AOII’s philanthropy partner is the Arthritis Foundation. She sought to help plan the 2017 San Luis Obispo Walk to Cure Arthritis and served as the 2018 Walk to Cure Arthritis chair.  She recently attended training for the Juvenile Arthritis iPeer2Peer Mentor Program in Atlanta and the Juvenile Arthritis Conference in Seattle.    

Rachel enjoys tennis and hopes to continue playing indefinitely as part of a healthy, active lifestyle. As an Arthritis Foundation Winterhoff Scholarship recipient, she feels blessed to have been recognized for her efforts and is eager to continue dedicating her time as a volunteer for the arthritis community.  Rachel is uniquely qualified to offer hope to those facing a serious or life-threatening diagnosis. She aims to provide resources and reassurance that patients have sovereignty over their disease and empower them to take control to live longer, healthier lives.