ROXBURY, NJ – A 7-year-old Succasunna girl with juvenile arthritis will be the “youth honoree” at the “Walk to Cure Arthritis” event next spring and she's asking people to donate money to help cure the disease.

The girl, Isabella Masullo, will be a big part of the Arthritis Foundation event taking place May 5 at Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, said her mother, Connie Masullo. “Her name will be all over the flyers and website,” she said. 

Isabella, who attends Jefferson School, is trying to raise $5,000 in pledges before the walk through her “Bella’s Butterflies” online fundraising effort.

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The child began suffering from juvenile arthritis when she was three years old, said her mother. “It was really just very strange,” said Masullo, 35. “Everything was going OK and then she woke up one morning and wouldn’t put her feet down. I gave it a few days but it got worse and worse. I was just blindsided.”

Masullo said she, at the time, “never even knew kids could get” arthritis. She said the type of arthritis affecting children is an auto-immune malady; Essentially, Isabella’s immune system was “attacking her cartilage.”

The pain started in the toddler's knees and spread to her toe. It took some time, and a number of doctors, before she was accurately diagnosed, but these days Isabella is doing fine, Masullo said.

“We have it under control,” she said. “She isn’t really in any pain. The meds are managing it.”

Although the cartilage that was damaged will never grow back, Masullo feels her daughter is, in a way, fortunate. “We’re lucky we caught it early,” she said. “Other kids lose a lot more cartilage and have to get joint replacements at young ages.”

Isabella can do pretty much anything other kids do, said her mother. She said her daughter is even on a competition dance team.

Masullo said she’s tried to use Isabella’s situation as a learning tool, teaching her daughter about the importance of positive thinking and about the importance of helping people who are struggling. “We bring food to the Roxbury Food Pantry and we bring stuff for the homeless, like gift cards,” she said. “She really does take to it. I think it’s because she’s been in pain. She has good knowledge of others that may need help.”

On her daughter’s fundraising site, Masullo said her Isabella, over the past four years, raised nearly $20,000.

“We continue to fight because - while we have been lucky - others in Bella's situation have not,” wrote Masullo. “We would also love to see Bella healthy and strong without these shots weekly, so we are still striving for a cure.”