Ann Kunkel, an advocate and healthcare profes- sional, knows the devastation arthritis can cause. All four of her children have some form of arthritis. “My kids have dealt with this disease for more than 20 years,” says Kunkel. The experience of raising four children with arthritis has been a driving force in Kunkel’s advocacy efforts for over 11 years.
Kunkel, who is an education coordinator in pediatric rheumatology at the University of Kansas Medical Center, in Kansas City, began advocating for patients with arthritis in 1996, when she made her first visit to Capitol Hill as a volunteer for the Arthritis Foundation. That experience showed Kunkel the power of each voice on the Hill.
She believes it is important for healthcare professionals to go to Capitol Hill to help their patients by sharing their message in a real and effective way. “[Legislators] need to know arthritis diseases can be fatal and people live with this disability for most of their lives,” she says.
Kunkel’s passion has not wavered over the years, and her perseverance has allowed her to witness legislative successes. However, she knows there are still many obstacles to overcome. “One of the biggest challenges that advocates face with arthritis is the congressional budget; arthritis gets less and less attention because people assume everyone will get arthritis and it is not that severe of a disease,” she says.
Kunkel says it is up to healthcare professionals and advocates to make sure that people have access to medication and can benefit from new therapeutic discoveries. “Every day there are multiple people we see in our clinic whose insurance will not cover their treatment, or they do not even have access to insurance,” explains Kunkel. “If the research cannot translate into treatment and access to care, that is a disgrace and this is where advocacy steps in.”
Every person has the right to good health if possible, Kunkel believes, and she fears that arthritis patients will be left behind by Washington if the rheumatology community does not share important facts in a vocal way. “Congress really does want to hear from their constituents; it is one of the most rewarding things to do—to feel like you have made a difference,” she says. “If we don’t tell the story, no one will.”
To recognize Kunkel’s tireless efforts, the ARHP created the Ann Kunkel Advocacy Award in 2007. This award honors her continued work as a patient educator in pediatric rheumatology and her enthusiasm and persistence, which have inspired many to advocate for their patients and loved ones with arthritis.