Arthritis Foundation to Hold Inaugural ‘Soiree by the Bay’ Event

A photo of a group of people posing for a photo outside, many dressed in green t-shirts.

Arthritis impacts 60 million Americans and is the leading cause of disability, but it’s not just a disease affecting older people – it also impacts 300,000 U.S. children. Hard to imagine, though there are 100 different forms of arthritis and related diseases. They are all disorders affecting the joints, typically with swelling and inflammation; managing the symptoms can often mean living with pain for a lifetime.

Florida Executive Director of the Arthritis Foundation Melissa Hughey tirelessly helps spread the word. A graduate of Florida State University School of Sports Management, Hughey spent an internship with the Tampa Bay Lightning before entering the non-profit arena. She grew up in the Old Northeast and is bringing her work home in the form of an inaugural fundraising event, Soiree by the Bay, at the iconic St. Petersburg Woman’s Club on April 15. The theme for the evening is “Anchors Away” and will feature a tropical motif, with tasting stations and tropical drink selections. The local board of directors includes parents of Vivienne, a little girl living with juvenile arthritis.

A photo of a woman posing for a photo on a balcony overlooking a street scene and a palm tree.
Florida Executive Director of the Arthritis Foundation Melissa Hughey.

Hughey explains that the event, which was initially postponed due to the pandemic, has multiple aims. “The local board of directors wanted to host a social event in St. Petersburg that would support the local affected families, provide a sense of hope, and create awareness among the community.” As part of the evening’s program, a medical honoree, Old Northeast resident and orthopedic surgeon Dr. David Johnson of All Florida Orthopedic Associates, will be recognized for his support of the Arthritis Foundation.

Of the many kinds of arthritis, osteoarthritis is the most common, and typically occurs later in life to joints weakened through deterioration, worsening with age. The whole joint is impacted – cartilage, connective tissue, and bone. Inflammation damages the joint lining, contributing to swelling and pain. Lifestyle factors can influence the development of osteoarthritis, and diet, exercise, previous injuries, and body weight can all have an impact on the symptoms.

Some forms of arthritis are diseases of the autoimmune system, causing a variety of conditions where healthy tissues are attacked by defenses meant to overcome actual disease. An overactive immune system is the cause of rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and juvenile arthritis. These can be systemic, causing damage to the eyes, skin, heart, and other organs.  Juvenile arthritis is particularly cruel in that the joint inflammation, swelling, and pain can leave a child unable to play or participate in typical childhood activities.

A photo of a young child at the beach in a pink and rainbow-colored bathing suit smiling at the camera.
The local board of directors includes parents of Vivienne, a little girl living with juvenile arthritis. Courtesy of the Arthritis Foundation.

Gout is also a form of metabolic arthritis, resulting from a buildup of uric acid crystals in joints when the body does not process foods properly. Diet can greatly impact metabolic arthritis, and patients are advised to avoid red meat, and consume a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Lifestyle changes can help arthritis sufferers, as well as over-the-counter medications, like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, though long-term use can have negative effects on the stomach, heart, and kidneys. Chronic pain sufferers are also sometimes prescribed anti-depressants, even if the diagnosis is not depression. In some cases, opioids are prescribed for acute pain, which are known for their potentially addictive quality. Helping people to navigate this complex disease and its treatments is part of the foundation’s core mission. 

“The Arthritis Foundation helps support all types of arthritis sufferers in four key areas,” explains Hughey. “The foundation supports research, treatment, advocacy, and programs and services.” Science and medicine are a priority for the foundation, as well as advocacy in government initiatives. The foundation also holds walk/run fundraising and awareness events, like the December Jingle Bell Run in Tampa. On a more human level, the foundation’s programs and services reach people with tangible actions and results. “Families are provided with tools on how to live with the condition. There are summer camps for Juvenile Arthritis,” says Hughey. “We give families a chance to meet and share a sense of hope.”  

Learn more or get involved with the Arthritis Foundation locally here.