WEST ORANGE, NJ – More than 1,000 people from throughout the region participated in the first West Orange-hosted New Jersey Walk to Cure Arthritis on Saturday, which took off the Clipper Pavilion on Cherry Lane, to help raise funds needed to support the local Arthritis Foundation’s initiatives to improve the quality of life of people with arthritis through advancements in medicine, treatments and technology while searching for a cure.

“This is a great day for a walk, and to pay special tribute to the group of warriors who despite their affliction make the best of their condition every day,” said event honoree Robert Garrett, co-CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health and corporate chair.

He added that arthritis impacts 50-million Americans, 300,000 of whom are children.

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“I want to thank the Arthritis Foundation for all that they do to help care for patients with arthritis, for all that they do to advance research to find a cure, and for all that they do to advocate for laws that assist people with this disease,” he said.

Prior to the walk, Garrett addressed the large crowd along with the other honorees, including teen honoree Amanda Hermann, champion of Yes honoree Andrew Curtis, youth honoree Isabella Musullo and adult honoree Virginia Bryan.

Musullo, who is a member of a competitive dance team despite having Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA), said, “Kids shouldn’t have to hurt. We won’t stop until we are all pain free…My favorite quote is: ‘Just because you’re hurt, doesn’t mean you’re broken.’”

People supporting Musullo at the race formed the Bella’s Butterflies team.

“We chose butterflies as our symbol because they have a hard time at the start of their lives before turning into something beautiful,” said Connie Musullo, Isabella’s mother, who said she is so proud of Isabella for overcoming having arthritis issues affecting both of her knees through physical therapy, medication and surgery.

She said she was just as proud of her daughter’s efforts to give back to others in need by helping to raise funds for organizations such as Kindness for Christopher and Dimes for Downs.

Curtis, who was able to be on his high school’s varsity football, swimming and golf teams despite having Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA), thanked his parents for allowing him to be as active as possible.

“I would tell other parents who have children with arthritis that even if you are afraid that your child might get hurt doing a sport, please let them try,” he said. “We are stronger than you’ll ever know.”

Curtis has begun his pursuit of a doctor of pharmacy degree, and said that he hopes one day to work on a medication that would cure arthritis.

Herman, who has gone from a wheelchair to walking as she continues to battle Systemic and Polyarticular JIA, said she has similar goals. She recently ended her freshman year at Quinnipiac University, where she is a bio-medical science major. She sang a stirring rendition of the national anthem before the walk began.  

Among those volunteering at the Arthritis Foundation kiosk was Kathy Geller, who serves on the Leadership Board of the New Jersey chapter of the Foundation. She explained the “Live Yes” philosophy of the Arthritis Foundation, saying, “We focus on what you are able to do, not what is being taken away from us. We are living our ‘yes’—flipping things to the positive side.”

Geller said that the public’s perception that arthritis is an “old person’s disease” is incorrect. According to Geller, there are approximately 10,000 kids in New Jersey alone with JIA.

She urged people to get more involved in advocating for laws that will help reduce the costs of medications that help control the disease, and increase funding to find a cure.

After the walk, the participants received a wristband from Essex County Cares that allowed them to access the Turtle Back Zoo, minGOLF Safari and Cody Arena at a reduced rate.

The walk was presented by Hackensack Meridian Health. Other local sponsors were RWJBarnabas Health, FLT: Independent Order of Odd Fellows New Jersey Grand Lodge, Millie Luing Foundation, Delta Dental of New Jersey, Porzio, Bromberg & Newman P.C., and the Kessler Foundation. National sponsors for the Walks throughout the country are AMGEN (Presenting Sponsor), Signature Sponsors abbvie, Sanofi Genzyme, and Regeneron; and Supporting Sponsor Bristol Myers Squibb.

To help the New Jersey chapter of the Arthritis Foundation reach its $300,000 goal for this fundraising effort, you can donate HERE.

To learn more about advocacy efforts and to get involved, click HERE.

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