Erica Stotler had a choice very early in her life. Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when she was 8 years old, she could have resigned herself to living a debilitated life. Instead, in a classic taking lemons and making lemonade fashion, Stotler's dedicated her life to advocacy and mentorship for other arthritis sufferers.
She started a support group in Winchester when she was 21, and after moving to Richmond in 2004 quickly became a mainstay at the Virginia Chapter of the Arthritis Foundation. There, she serves as an ambassador for the foundation, traveling to Washington to lobby members of Congress to support arthritis-related legislation. She also recently launched a local support group called Arthritis Introspective.
The disease causes chronic inflammation of the joints, often progressing to joint destruction, systemic illnesses and functional disability. But while sometimes struggling with extreme pain, Stotler maintains a cheerful, dedicated attitude at the Visitors Bureau, her colleagues say.
Three years ago, she embarked on perhaps the most challenging adventure yet: She suspended her litany of disease-managing medications so that she could get pregnant. She's now the mom of a happy, healthy daughter. To others who face similar challenges, her advice is simple: “You can choose to let it get you down, or you can see the obstacles as hurdles you have to take in stride.”