Arthritis is a devastating disease that has impacted people of all ages for many years. Until the late 1940s, support was not available for those suffering from arthritis in Canada; a staggering 600,000 cases at the time. Dedicated funds were not available for arthritis research. People were bedridden for years without help that was so desperately needed. Treatments that were available were often delayed until joint damage was too severe and irreversible.
Dr. Wallace Graham, one of the only four rheumatologists in Canada in the ‘40s and Mary Pack, a home schooling teacher who witnessed students suffer from the effects of arthritis, made it their mission to help those who were suffering and work to find the causes of and a cure for this debilitating disease. An organization with this as its mission needed to be created.
Both Dr. Graham, Ms. Pack and other pioneers stirred up considerable political interest in arthritis and developed strong relations with the Minister of Health at that time, the Honorable Paul Martin Sr. Mary Pack, in her book, Never Surrender, reported that “Dr. Wallace Graham presented the case so well that there was no doubt it would be acted on.”
These efforts culminated in a 1947 national conference in Ottawa celebrating some breathtaking medical advances in that era's 'Renaissance of Rheumatology.'
The Canadian Arthritis and Rheumatism Society (CARS)
In 1948, thanks to the tireless efforts of Mary Pack, and Dr. Graham, the Canadian Arthritis and Rheumatism Society (CARS) was created, now known as The Arthritis Society (TAS). Dr. Graham became its first volunteer president and in British Columbia, Mary Pack became their first Executive Director.
CARS got a foothold in the health care industry in 1949 with its platform Arthritis - Plan for Attack. It was the first in a series of five-year strategic plans that would help keep the organization focused on the job at hand - a concerted effort to combat arthritis.
The plan initiated various programs to support clinical and basic science research projects, and to attract and educate the medical manpower necessary to address arthritis in Canada. It played a major role in increasing the number of rheumatologists (arthritis specialists) in Canada to over 350 now - compared to only four in 1949.
Plan for Attack also helped launch the first of CARS' annual fundraising campaigns. Eventually September was declared arthritis month in Canada.
The first lupus clinic was established in the 1960s and CARS was officially renamed The Arthritis Society in 1977.
In 1997, an initiative by The Arthritis Society – Arthritis 2000 – brought researchers, politicians and the public together to discuss the need for more research. As a result of this conference, the Canadian Arthritis Network was formed.
Advancement in arthritis treatment
Plan for Attack and all those plans that followed have helped The Arthritis Society remain steadfast in its vision. And while the cures for arthritis have not yet been found, much has been accomplished in treatment and control:
- Gout, rheumatic fever and infectious arthritis can now be effectively controlled;
- Improved diagnostic skills have been developed especially in diagnosing lupus and fibromyalgia;
- Hospital stays for the severely ill have been reduced from months to weeks;
- Artificial joints have been developed to replace those totally destroyed by arthritis;
- More effective medications are now available; and
- Rheumatologists are available in just about every province in Canada.
Thanks to a tradition of overwhelming volunteer support and determination, the road ahead looks bright for people with arthritis.