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Young arthritis advocate raises awareness in Washington

Nine-year-old Mckenzie Rowbotham of Plymouth and her parents, Wendy and Scott, pose with Congressman Frank Guinta during a recent visit to Washington, D.C., where Mckenzie met with the state’s entire Congressional delegation to raise awareness of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Guinta later invited Mckenzie onto the floor of the House with him during a voting session. (Courtesy) (click for larger version)
March 16, 2011
WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Feb. 28, Mckenzie Rowbotham, a nine-year-old third grader, and her parents (Wendy & Scott Rowbotham) from Plymouth, traveled to Washington, D.C. to take part in the Arthritis Foundation's "Advocacy & Kids Summit." Mckenzie (who suffers from Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA)), went to represent the 1,200 children in NH who have Arthritis. Mckenzie and her parents are all NH Arthritis Ambassadors.

The Arthritis summit is put together annually by the Arthritis Foundation for families all over the nation to unite as one voice & bring that voice to Capitol Hill. Families meet with their respective members of Congress to tell their personal story and ask Congress for help.

This year, families discussed the Congressional Arthritis Caucus, the movement to send letters to President Obama to make Arthritis a national priority, to sustain research investment in the NIH and to support Osteoarthritis research in the Department of Defense.

Mckenzie's goal was to bring a face of Juvenile Arthritis in NH to the NH members of Congress and ask for their support. This was going to be an even greater task, as the big topic in Washington, D.C. is the national budget. An important focus of the meetings was to try to keep the funding for research from being cut.

Mckenzie's first appointment was with Sen. Kelly Ayotte on March 1. Ayotte and her Legislative Director, Adam Hechavarria, met with Mckenzie & her parents in the morning, listening to what it was like for Mckenzie to live with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Ayotte and her staff were very interested in hearing about Mckenzie and her challenges with Arthritis. They asked multiple questions and listened to her concerns.

The following day, Mckenzie met with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in the morning. While the Rowbothams waited to meet with the Senator, her husband entertained them by proudly showing off the pictures of their family in the Senator's office. They met with Shaheen, and Mckenzie gave her a bracelet for her granddaughter, who suffers from diabetes.

After their meeting with Shaheen, they met with her staff members, Alison MacDonald & Jessica Chau. They too were very interested in hearing about Mckenzie & her challenges with Rheumatoid Arthritis. One of the Senator's Aides helped them make their next meeting on the other side of the hill by bringing them on an interesting tour of the labyrinth of tunnels and shuttle under the Capitol Building.

Their next stop was Congressman Charlie Bass's office. The Congressman wasn't available, so they met with his Legislative Assistant, Helen Dwight. She was very inquisitive about Mckenzie's challenges with Rheumatoid Arthritis. She said she would pass on their concerns to the Congressman.

Their last visit of the day was with Congressman Frank Guinta. They initially met his Aide, Kory Wood. Soon, Guinta entered the room & sat down next to Mckenzie to talk with her. Mckenzie was having a bad day with her arthritis, and was in a wheelchair. After telling him her story & seeing her discomfort, he asked her if she would like to join him on the House floor during the next voting session. When she found out that moms and dads weren't allowed on the House floor — only Congressmen and guest children — Mckenzie said yes. CSPAN also covers the voting and activities on the House floor on TV. Mckenzie was very excited and ready to go!

Scott & Wendy continued on with Guinta's staff, and were escorted to the House Gallery with Guinta's Aide, Jay Rvais, where they could watch Mckenzie on the House floor.

Mckenzie was not shy meeting the Congressmen from many states, chatting happily with multiple Congressmen and explaining why she was in D.C. Guinta explained the voting process to Mckenzie, what the numbers meant on the walls, and the names of the House members. Mckenzie got to meet Congressmen from Texas and Florida. She would occasionally point and wave to her mom & dad in the gallery area. They later caught up with Bass, as well.

After the voting took place, Mckenzie re-united with her parents at the top of the Capitol steps, with both Congressman Guinta & Bass. Bass took a picture of Mckenzie with two of the Capital police outside of the House chambers. Mckenzie and her parents then got a chance to have their picture taken with both Congressmen on the steps of the Capitol. The Congressmen walked with the Rowbotham family across the street to their office buildings. For a few hours, Mckenzie was able to put aside the pain in her joints with the excitement of doing something not many people get a chance to do. She was also able to go visit her favorite museums, the National History Museum, the National Air & Space Museum and the National Zoo, where she got to visit the Pandas and the seven new lion cubs.

Upon the Rowbothams' return home to Plymouth, they checked out the CSPAN Web site for the video of the March 2 voting. Sure enough, after doing a bit of searching, they were able to find Mckenzie walking on the House floor and talking with the Congressmen.

The Rowbotham family would like to thank Senators Shaheen & Ayotte, Congressmen Bass & Guinta, and their staff for taking time out of their busy schedules to meet with them. A special thanks to Congressman Guinta for helping take the pain away from Mckenzie's joints for a little while with the excitement of being on the House floor.

Mckenzie and her family hope that New Hampshire's members of Congress take a moment & think about Mckenzie & the 1,200 NH children (300,000 nationwide) who suffer from arthritis.

If there are any NH families who have children with arthritis, please contact your members of Congress and let them know about what its like for your child with Arthritis. Let them know how research may help your child possibly live a life someday without Arthritis.

If you have questions about Mckenzie's trip, please feel free to contact the Rowbothams through the paper or the Arthritis Foundation's Northern New England Office in Concord. If you would like to help support your local arthritis chapters, there are several walks coming up to also raise money for research. Mckenzie will again be walking this year on May 26 in Manchester, and you can support her by visiting www.arthritis.org & follow the links to the arthritis walk nearest you.

To support Mckenzie on her walk, contact the NH Arthritis Foundation. Northern New England Office, 6 Chenell Drive, Suite 260, Concord, NH 03301. If you have any questions on the Arthritis Walk and what you can do to help you can contact Patti Maccabe or Margaret Duffy at 1-800-639-2113 toll free in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

Martin Lord & Osman
Salmon Press
Alton School
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