Arthritis foundation hosts benefit walk/run

BY JAY BODAS Correspondent

METUCHEN – Main Street Metuchen was the place to be this past Saturday morning, with hundreds of local residents lining up at the start line at Main and New streets to kick off the Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis.

“I think the final count was 242 participants, and for a first-time event, never having done it here before, we were very pleased,” said Lorna Krkich, president of the New Jersey chapter of the Arthritis Foundation, after the day’s event. “I would say we probably raised at least $15,000 today.”

The Arthritis Foundation bills the event as the organization’s signature activity and as the nation’s largest holiday run/walk event. Every year almost 70,000 people from around the country participate individually or in teams of 10 or more to raise money for the foundation and its work. This is the first time the event has been held in Metuchen, however.

Participants competed in a 3.1-mile run or walk, which was followed by an awards ceremony and lunch, provided by the Cornerstone Café and Bistro, which also donated the restaurant’s space that day for runners and family.

Krkich said that the purpose of the event was to raise awareness of arthritis as a “disease” and not “something that just happens as you get older.”

“There are over 170 different forms of arthritis,” she said. “It is a chronic disease, but people don’t tend to think of it that way.”

According to the Arthritis Foundation, arthritis is the No. 1 cause of disability among Americans over age 16, with 1.6 million people in New Jersey suffering from the condition. Forty-three percent of sufferers are under the age of 65.

Moreover, the condition afflicts not only adults, but also young people. Eleven thousand children in New Jersey suffer from a form of arthritis – more than muscular dystrophy, hemophilia, and cystic fibrosis combined – according to the foundation.

One of those who was honored at this weekend’s event was 5-year-old Metuchen resident Aaron Puerzer, who has a form of arthritis called spondyloarthropy.

“My son was originally diagnosed in March 2005 before he turned 3,” said his mother, Claire. Aaron was then re-diagnosed with the specific form, spondyloarthropy, which accounts for 10 percent of juvenile chronic arthritis cases.

“He was not a textbook case, and so the doctor told him it is not often diagnosed so early unless you have a parent who is persistent and a doctor who has seen it before,” she said. “We were blindsided by it all because we just didn’t know anything. I tried contacting the Arthritis Foundation, joined their message boards, talked to other parents, and just shared information. We raised money for a foundation sponsored event that May.”

The form of arthritis that Aaron has affects his spine, causing back pain, she said.

“He may always have back discomfort, but not the debilitating pain with braces and wheelchairs,” Claire Puerzer said. “Sometimes he stands and says his back hurts, and at school his teacher will let him get up and stretch if he needs to. But for him it has always been this way, as he has never known any different.”

Aaron currently has a very good prognosis for the future, and the family hopes to take him off medication at the end of this year.

“He probably would be excluded from the armed forces, which doesn’t disappoint me in the least, and it’s possible he may not be able to play professional sports one day,” his mother said. “But my wish is that for the most part, he can do anything physical or athletic he wants to do, and I hope the condition doesn’t limit him. As of now, it never has.”

The Arthritis Foundation also sponsors classes on how to manage the disease through regular exercise and diet. This year’s adult race honoree, Dolores Geisow of Westfield, has been an instructor with the foundation for the past seven years.

“I have had rheumatoid arthritis for the last 20 years,” said Geisow, who has had two hip replacements and one knee replacement. “It is not easy, but with proper medication and diet, I can stay relatively active. I want people to know that if they are diagnosed with the disease, they should have a positive outlook and not fear it, because it can be controlled and they can lead a normal life.”

Krkich encourages those who want to learn more about arthritis to contact the Arthritis Foundation to learn more about its free offerings.

“Our biggest message is that we want people to know that arthritis is a disease, and we want people to give us a call,” she said. “We have lots of free information, and we can give people all sorts of strategies that they can use to really prevent the debilitating effects of arthritis.”

For more information about the Arthritis Foundation, call (732) 283-4300 or go to