Special Reports

Bellingham Jingle Bell Run contributes to arthritis research and programs

Every December, the streets of Bellingham come alive with people in colorful costumes and tinkling bells as they walk, jog and run in the annual Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis.

More than 3,700 people participated in 2014, one of 100 Jingle Bell events held nationwide. The Bellingham version began in 1988 and attracts thousands of people and pets to the 5-kilometer course. Bellingham was the fourth-largest fundraiser among Jingle Bell runs last year, raising more than $193,000.

The organization behind the run is the Arthritis Foundation, a national nonprofit that works on behalf of the 50 million Americans with arthritis. The Bellingham office, with its staff of three, is part of the organization’s Great West Region. Lisa Mitchell is program coordinator.

“The Arthritis Foundation is always working to ensure we are nimble and adapting to the needs of Americans affected by arthritis,” Mitchell says.

She points to the foundation’s website, arthritis.org, as a tremendous resource. People with arthritis can visit the website to subscribe to newsletters, watch online exercise videos, and learn about topics ranging from new research and treatment options, to insurance coverage and spiritual and emotional health. There are also resources for kids living with juvenile arthritis.

“A great thing about our website is that people can search for very specific information,” Mitchell says. “There are over 100 types of arthritis, and our website can provide them with information that will truly benefit them.”

The foundation recently established a regional toll-free helpline so arthritis patients can speak one-on-one with someone about their unique needs. The helpline also provides contact information for local resources and programs.

Arthritis is the nation’s leading cause of disability, affecting one-in-five adults and more than 300,000 children. Since 1948, the foundation has invested half a billion dollars in research, leading to the first biologic drugs for rheumatoid and juvenile arthritis.

Biologic drugs were a game-changer for rheumatoid arthritis treatment when the first one was approved in 1998. Genetically engineered proteins originating from human genes, the drugs target specific parts of the immune system and interrupt signals that fuel inflammation.

Non-biologic drugs offer a more scattershot approach and can result in more side effects. In the past couple of years, research has focused on the use of biologic drugs for the treatment of osteoarthritis, the most common form of the disease.

“We exist to conquer arthritis,” Mitchell says. “The Arthritis Foundation is focused on finding a cure and championing the fight against arthritis with life-changing information, advocacy, science and community.”