Deborah Norville Reports On Rheumatoid Arthritis
By John Morgan, Spotlight Health
Norville honors her mom's memory by helping find a cure for rheumatoid arthritis.
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
Inside Edition anchor and veteran journalist Deborah
Norville has a good ear for a story. But Norville also has a good heart when
it comes to raising awareness about rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
"I lost my mother to rheumatoid arthritis when I was 20," says the Emmy-winning
anchor and former co-host of the NBC's Today Show. "She got to see me
on TV twice. But she never met my husband or my children."
To honor her mother's memory, Norville has been a long-time supporter of the
Arthritis Foundation. Last year Norville was awarded Person of the Year by the
Chicago Arthritis Foundation for her support in launching their telethon.
Norville says that her mother's diagnosis with RA launched a new era in her
"Within a few months of her diagnosis there were demonstrable changes in her
ability to hold things, go places, all of which were followed by even more pain
in her joints," Norville recalls. "I mark the timeline of my childhood as 'mom
was walking then,' 'mom had the walking cane then,' 'mom had the walker,' 'mom
was in the wheel chair,' and finally 'mom was bedridden then.'"
With each additional piece of medical equipment, Norville says it signified
another reduction in her mother's ability to carry on the simplest tasks of
"She used to call us her arms and legs," Norville says. "Every Christmas we
would ask her what she wanted for Christmas and she would always say, 'A new
set of legs,'" She never wanted anything else but a new set of legs."
And her mother's lifelong dream on one day taking her four daughters shopping
in Paris was never realized when complications from RA claimed her life in 1978.
Norville's experience with her mother's battle with RA has never left her.
She continues to be a passionate advocate and fundraiser for a disease that
affects an estimate 2.1 million Americans. Recently, Norville teamed up with
pharmaceutical giants Amgen and Wyeth, makers of a RA treatment, to increase
awareness about RA.
"What I want people to know is that for those who are dealing with rheumatoid
arthritis it is a very frustrating and often depressing for them to deal with
their disease," Norville says. "Often times it is not easily diagnosed. Usually
the diagnosis of RA comes after they have eliminated everything else so just
getting a correct diagnosis can be a very challenging situation."
RA is one of the most serious forms of arthritis and is a chronic lifetime
disease that over time has the potential to damage and/or deform joints, produce
major disability and even cause death. RA results from the immune system inappropriately
attacking tissues inside the joint capsule, causing damaging inflammation.
While anyone, including children, can be afflicted with RA, those most at risk
are women usually between the ages of 20 and 40 and people with a family history
"Rheumatoid arthritis is primarily a disease of the joints and almost all joints
can be affected - but the hands, wrists and feet are particularly targeted,"
says John Klippel, rheumatologist and medical director of the Arthritis Foundation.
"It begins with pain, swelling, tenderness and joint stiffness that persists
well into the morning and even into the afternoon."
According to Klippel, the swelling in the hands or feet is often characterized
by heat, redness or tenderness and occurs on a daily basis. Fatigue and weight
loss are also common in RA. And about one in five patients develop bumps under
the skin called nodules, often classically located near the elbow.
"There are many causes of arthritis and the symptoms of RA can be mimicked
by other diseases so people need to understand that if they develop some of
these symptoms, they should see a rheumatologist and get a proper diagnosis,"
says Klippel. "It is important to start therapy early because we want to intervene
in this disease before there is joint damage."
Norville's mother did not have the treatment options available to many RA patients
"Mostly, she had steroids," Norville reports. "Today however there is a whole
new crop of drugs that have proved to be not only effective in relieving the
pain but also stopping the progression of RA."
"The use of NSAIDs and corticosteroids are important to reduce inflammation,"
Klippel explains. "But the real excitement in the field is that a number of
these newer drugs or biologic therapies can not only reduce inflammation but
also can help to limit and, in many patients, prevent joint damage."
The standard therapy for the last decade has been methotrexate. Originally
developed to treat cancer, it is highly effective and can prevent joint damage.
Another effective treatment is a disease modifying drug called leflunonide.
Both are taken orally.
"But there are now four FDA-approved biologic agents," Klippel says. "While
the former two drugs are administered orally, these drugs are taken intravenously.
They have to be injected. Three of the four -- Enbrel, Remicade and Humira
-- target a cytokine called tumor necrosis factor." Cytokines seems to play
a major role in the inflammatory response of RA.
The fourth biologic is called Kineret that is directed against IL1 - or interleukin
1 - which is also linked to the inflammation process.
"Today there are people with RA who were once suffering like my mom but who
have found medications that bring relief and help stop the progression of the
damage," Norville says. "It's too late for my mom, but there are others out
there who can benefit from this awareness."
Norville and Klippel both stress that these medications are not a cure. But
each can potentially improve a patient's quality of life.
"And not every drug will work for every patient," Norville urges. "I'm not
out here to sell anything. I want people to simply ask questions. The message
of this campaign is to underscore that people who have perhaps given up hope
can look into some of the new drugs available. Don't give up hope. Keep asking
questions. Chances are there is an answer out there that can help you or someone
• The Arthritis Foundation
• The Hope Relay
is the leading creator of celebrity-featured health-issue awareness campaigns,
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Created: 7/27/2003  - Donnica Moore, M.D.