Brad Carlson: My Life As An Advocate
Brad Carlson was diagnosed with severe rheumatoid arthritis six years ago. “It came on so hard,” Brad says. “I lost my job and went on disability. It’s scary when you first get diagnosed. HealthCentral’s RA site helped. I wanted to do that for someone else, it’s why I got started in advocacy.” Brad volunteers with The Arthritis Foundation and advocates online. He lives in Myrtle Beach, SC with his wife Laurie and their dogs Bella and Myah.
“My dogs help me advocate. They go everywhere with me and attract adults and kids who want to pet them. Eventually, the conversation comes around to questions about why I use a wheelchair and this gives me a chance to talk about RA. At this year’s Memorial Day barbecue, I was surrounded by children asking questions.”
Seven months after his diagnosis, Brad did his first Jingle Bell Run in a wheelchair. There, he talked to the Arthritis Foundation’s State Director, who asked him to get involved. By the next year, Brad was appointed to the volunteer Board for the Run. He also attends Health Fairs, joins Foundation staff in information sessions, as well as fundraisers. “I answer questions and spin it into my personal story, telling people about RA and autoimmune diseases.”
Brad puts a lot of energy into fundraising for his Jingle Bell Run team Sharktooth Hunters. “It helps me to push the message of RA. Hardly anyone knows about it. The more I can do to spread the word, the better.” In 2012, Brad was the adult Honoree at the Jingle Bell Run and was also given an award for being the Top Individual Fundraiser. “I’ve become the ‘poster child’ for arthritis, giving speeches and appearing on radio and television.”
In 2011, Brad was contacted by the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) and asked to participate in their advocacy effort in Washington, DC. Teams consisting of a rheumatologist, an ACR staff and an individual with arthritis spend three days speaking to Senators and members of Congress from their home states. “We advocate to lawmakers, ask for changes in laws, health programs, drug coverage and insurance. I’m hoping to go again this year,” Brad says.
Brad is a wood worker. Six months ago, he started making Spoons to Beat RA, based on the Spoon Theory. Members of the RA community from all over the world send him an image that is meaningful to them and he makes a special spoon in his workshop. It’s a smaller, personal way to raise awareness and to help the recipient raise awareness of the impact of their RA. Brad’s spoons have made their way to Alaska, to Europe and even to Australia!