Since April 9, Lauren McAllister has been making a career out of defeating arthritis, especially juvenile arthritis, having seen the effects paralyze her younger sister, Kristen McAllister.
That’s the most serious among a host of Kristen’s struggles, battling the joint affliction for more than a decade.
“The medications to treat juvenile arthritis, they weaken your immune system. ... She had a kidney infection that she could not fight off ... and that triggered an auto-immune attack on her spinal cord and that has left her paralyzed from the waist down,” said Lauren, development manager with The Arthritis Foundation in Nashville.
Spending 154 days in the hospital in 2015, Kristen currently is in physical therapy learning to walk again.
As for Kristen’s long-term prognosis, “There is hope she can walk again. It will be an uphill battle,” Lauren said.
But these sisters, both Farragut High School graduates, are combining their efforts in an quest to defeat juvenile arthritis.
“She graduated with honors in 2013, despite being homebound for a majority” of the school year, Lauren, a 2011 FHS graduate, said about Kristen.
Around age 13 when Kristen, now 22, was diagnosed, “it was shocking to get that diagnosis. However, it was wonderful to have an answer. She was very sick and no one could really tell us why,” said Lauren, chair of 26th Annual The Arthritis Foundation Jingle Bell Run[5k.
Race begins at 10 a.m., Saturday, Dec. 10, with start and finish lines at World’s Fair Park in downtown Knoxville.
A one-mile run/walk begins at 10:15 a.m.
Responsible for Middle and East Tennessee Foundation efforts, Lauren said it was her experience in school, hearing students make false assumptions about Kristen’s condition, which fueled her desire to “educate people.”
“They knew she was on chemotherapy medication and would make assumptions, ‘oh, she has cancer,’ or, ‘oh she’s dying,’” Lauren, 24, said.
“So I decided to start sharing her story whenever I had the opportunity to,” Lauren added. “It also led me into volunteering for The Arthritis Foundation.”
In 2015, “Kristen was honored to be named a National Honoree for the Jingle Bell Run,” Lauren said.
With Kristen unable to fulfill her National Honoree duties due to her lengthy hospital stay, “the Foundation asked if I would go in her place,” Lauren said. “I went to a few functions and shared her story.
“After it was all said and done they came to me and they said, ‘we have a position at the Nashville office, we’d love for you to take it,’” Lauren added.
In addition to her Jingle Bell Run duties, “I also work on the community engagement aspect, I’m reaching out to families in Tennessee who may have a child with arthritis, to get them involved in our program,” Lauren said.
Lauren has participated, as part of a team that supports Kristen’s fight, in several previous Jingle Bell Runs.
Looking ahead to the Jingle Bell Run, “We’re hoping to have between 1,100 and 1,200 [runners] this year,” Lauren said.
To sign up as either an individual or as a team, visit online at www.jbr.org/knoxville/. In-dividual race day registration starts at 8:30 a.m. Deadline to register as a team is midnight, Tuesday, Dec. 6.
For more information about juvenile arthritis, e-mail Lauren at firstname.lastname@example.org /.