Dana Guglielmo, a fifth-year student from New Jersey, was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when she was 17 years old.
The sudden diagnosis did not stop her from receiving a scholarship to University of Richmond for track and field. For the past four years, she was a steeplechaser (long distance hurdling with a water pit) on the track and field team.
Arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects a person’s entire body, from joint and muscle pain to heart problems. Guglielmo, 22, said she thought her running career was over when she found out that she had arthritis. She did not know that she could have the disease and still be so active.
Guglielmo gets a bimonthly injection of medicine into her stomach and takes six pills a week to treat her arthritis. “The medicine came with side effects and made me sick at first,” Guglielmo said. She said that now, she has “pretty good control over the disease,” adding that she did not want the disease to affect her. She also cannot take too many medications, so she has to find a balance, she said.
The arthritis “affects every single day in some way,” Guglielmo said. Some days, one of her joints will flare up, causing her to have to call the doctor to get emergency medication. “When I get sick, I get very sick, and it can be hard to deal with,” she said.
Guglielmo said that her health always came first and she had to listen to her body and treat it well. “I feel grateful when there is a two-month span when I don’t miss class, because I love going to class,” she said.
In her free time, Guglielmo is an intern at the Arthritis Foundation in Richmond. The Arthritis Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “improve lives through leadership in the prevention, control and cure of arthritis and related diseases,” said Ki’Yonna Brown, the heath and wellness director at the foundation.
“Dana is a walking, talking inspiration as she is diagnosed with arthritis and still lives her life as if nothing will get her down,” Brown said. “She is punctual, effective, relational, creative and overall a kind pleasure to be around.”
Guglielmo is currently working on helping to organize the Jingle Bell 5-kilometer race for the foundation, which “as a runner, I’m very excited about,” she said. The event “dispels the myth that when you have arthritis, you are crippled for the rest of your life,” she said.
Guglielmo particularly enjoys working with children at the foundation. “I was able to have a childhood without arthritis, and it breaks my heart that [the children] never had that,” she said. “I want to show them that everything is going to be okay in the end.”
Guglielmo said she hoped that this article would bring attention to another autoimmune disease that affects some Richmond students, and also clear up preconceived notions that people have about rheumatoid arthritis.
Contact reporter Mary Rossiter at firstname.lastname@example.org