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Finding Courage and Happiness Through Rheumatoid Arthritis

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"No matter what you're going through in life, everyone has something," Australian Karen Ager says. "It's how you bounce forward despite these obstacles and make the most of future opportunities."

Diagnosed with an aggressive form of joint-destroying rheumatoid arthritis (RA) at 17, Karen Ager was told she would spend her life on an invalid pension, unable to accomplish anything due to the constant pain she would suffer. Now 45 years old, Karen enjoys a full life. She married the man of her dreams, teaches grade school children full time, exercises and advocates tirelessly for the millions who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis.

In her book, Enemy Within, Karen shares her inspirational journey of personal suffering at the hands of fate, refusal to accept defeat and the discovery of a hidden gift that gave her a new purpose. While the disease is the thread that weaves Karen's story together, Karen's memoir is less about her outer journey and fighting the ravages of her disease, and more about her relentless pursuit of happiness and inner peace.

Arthritis is commonly considered an affliction of the elderly but the disease is actually far more widespread than that:

• 46 million people in the U.S. live with some form of arthritis.
• Two-thirds of arthritis patients are under 65.
• It's estimated that by 2030, 67 million Americans will suffer from arthritis.
• Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the most crippling form of the disease and affects 3 million adults and two to three times more women than men.
• RA also affects about 300,000 children in the U.S.; this represents about 1 in 250 children.
• Arthritis annually results in 9,367 deaths and 744,000 hospitalizations.
In 2001, Karen was given a revolutionary new biological drug that completely altered her quality of life, enabling her to do simple things that most people take for granted like brushing her hair or lifting something above her head without excruciating pain for the first time.

Using her media savvy and connections built from raising RA awareness, Karen successfully campaigned back home in Australia for several drugs to be added to the pharmaceuticals benefits list, making them available and affordable for Australian sufferers in 2003. Today, Karen continues to work relentlessly to raise public awareness of the disease, with regular media appearances and talks at fundraisers and advocacy events.

Karen's journey is one of heartbreak and humiliation, triumph and tragedy as she grapples with relationships, infertility, grief and her ultimate powerlessness to stop her disease, finally accepting it and discovering it to be a hidden gift as a catalyst for positive change. Karen's pursuit of happiness has led to happiness, and good health, in millions of others, who will, in turn, help millions more. Be the change you want to see in the world, a popular bumper sticker purports. Looks like Karen Ager took those words to heart.

For more information about Karen Ager and Rhuematoid Arthritis visit her website and Facebook Page. Nominate someone with a courageous story for a future HooplaHa video right here!