Arthritis research benefited by Greek philanthropy


Courtesy photo: Jeff Willek

Kaylee Wellik was diagnosed with arthritis at age 4, and has since visited Washington D.C. twice to advocate arthritis research.

Lindsay Calvert

Kathy and Jeff Wellik of Story City never imagined their 4-year-old daughter, Kaylee, would be 1 of the 2,800 children in Iowa diagnosed with arthritis.

Kaylee started complaining about her knees at age 3. Kathy Wellik said she always wanted to be carried; they thought it was jealousy toward her new baby sister.

Kaylee’s parents took her to a walk-in clinic for a swollen knee at age 4. The doctor thought she just twisted it while playing.

Two weeks later, Kaylee became very sick. She woke up and could barely move, Kathy said.

“They put her through every test in the world in the next five days,” Kathy said.

Doctors first thought it was leukemia, but later diagnosed Kaylee with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

“I was in shock at first, obviously, but I was thankful it wasn’t cancer,” Kathy said.

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is the most common type of arthritis in children under 16. It causes constant joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. It can cause growth problems and affect internal organs.

Within 90 days after her diagnosis, Kaylee had 61 doctor appointments. She went through extensive physical therapy, pool therapy and occupational therapy for the next 18 months.

Her swollen knees were constantly hurting, leaving her unable to walk for six months.

Her parents had to push her around in a stroller, physically put her in and remove her from the bathtub.

“She had it in her fingers, wrists, ankles and elbows, basically all over her body,” Kathy said.

Kaylee was only in remission for six months out of the 12 years she has had arthritis. She takes three daily oral medications, one weekly injection and one weekly oral medicine to help with the symptoms.

There was a six-week period where her arthritis flared again. She had to be pushed to lunch at school on an office chair. “People don’t understand how it cannot be there one day and flare the next,” Kathy said.

Kaylee is now a junior at Roland-Story High School. She has not let her arthritis stop her from making a difference. She gives welcome kits including a backpack, notebook and a quilt to children who have recently been diagnosed with juvenile arthritis. Kaylee has traveled to Washington, D.C. two times to advocate arthritis research.

Sharon Tatom Garcia, vice president of communication for the Arthritis Foundation, said arthritis is the one of the most common causes of disability that costs the U.S. $128 billion dollars in direct and indirect costs each year.

At Iowa State, members of Alpha Omicron Pi sorority and Ames Area Running Club hold Run for the Roses, a 5K and 10K run, each year to raise money for arthritis research.

Callie Coates, philanthropy chairwoman for Alpha Omicron Pi, said the sorority members enjoy talking and interacting with the runners to see how much they enjoyed the event.

Last year a record $10,000 was raised from the event. Coates said their goal is to exceed last year’s total and raise $12,000 this year.