It all started with a bar mitzvah.
Mason Zimmerman, who lives with his family in Portland, Oregon, is a member of Congregation Beth Israel. Like many congregations today, they require bar and bat mitzvah students to take on projects with some meaning for their community. They’re called “mitzvah” projects, from the Hebrew word for a good deed or a charitable act.
“My Hebrew teacher has a grandson, Ethan, with psoriatic arthritis,” Mason says. “Some days he can’t play his favorite sports.” Mason also has an uncle with psoriatic disease. So for his bar mitzvah project, he decided to ride with Team NPF Cycle on June 10, as we biked through the Willamette Valley in Independence, Oregon, and help us in our fundraising.
Mason is in seventh grade at an international school. His favorite subjects are math and English, particularly American literature. He’s a point guard in basketball. “I’m short. I like shooting and ball-handling,” he says. In baseball he plays third and in the outfield. A year ago, he started golf, what he now calls his “main sport.”
Despite the less-than-optimal weather, the event raised $23,000. Mason not only brought in a good chunk of that total by himself, he was our top individual fundraiser. “I was hoping to raise $300, but I’m almost to $2,000,” Mason says.
Brian Willms, community development manager for NPF’s northwest division, is one of two people Mason credits with the success of his mitzvah project. “He taught me so much. I learned that there are many kids with psoriasis on their bodies and even though they aren’t contagious people are still scared of them because they look different.”
The other person he credits is his mother, Debby Zimmerman. Together they rode the 8-mile course, and they plan to return to Independence on June 9, 2019, to ride the next longest route, 26 miles. “She’s been amazing,” he says of his mother. “She does so much for me.”
“I’m a pretty average kid,” Mason says, but Willms calls him “extraordinary.”
Dancing with PsA
Mason’s Hebrew teacher’s grandson, Ethan Stafford, also 12, came to the ride with his mother, Elizabeth Stafford, to support Mason. There, the boys met for the first time. Ethan is in the seventh grade at a school for the arts located across town from the Zimmermans. He enjoys dancing, the piano, Legos, computer games and Nerf guns.
Ethan was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis when he was 8. The arthritis developed in his right knee. Before he began taking a systemic, he couldn’t run and he couldn’t jump. “I limped even when I was walking slow,” he says.
He gets an injection every Wednesday. “I get nauseous after that,” he says. “It sucks.” Like everyone who copes with psoriatic disease, Ethan has his own ways to fight back. “The nausea is in my mouth. Eating gets the flavor out. I like salty, sour, sweet flavors.” Music is also helpful. “If I feel nauseous, I lie down and listen to my music.”
Ethan says the systemic is not a cure. “I don’t hurt anymore. But sometimes the joints in my fingers do, like when I’m playing piano or with Legos, or if I’m writing with a pencil for a while.” Still, the systemic has put Ethan back on his feet. He takes dance lessons: hip hop, jazz, tap, ballet. He also taught himself the “robot” and draws inspiration from So You Think You Can Dance.
Ethan and his mom enjoyed the Team NPF Cycle event, where they volunteered and Ethan made a decision: “Next year, I’m going to ride, too.”
Photo credit: Mason Zimmerman (left) and Ethan Stafford by Rachel Citron O'Rourke
Driving discovery, creating community
For more than 50 years, we’ve been driving efforts to cure psoriatic disease and improve the lives of those affected. But there’s still plenty to do! Learn how you can help our advocacy team shape the laws and policies that affect people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis – in your state and across the country. Help us raise funds to support research by joining Team NPF, where you can walk, run, cycle, play bingo or create your own fundraising event. If you or someone you love needs free, personalized support for living a healthier life with psoriatic disease, contact our Patient Navigation Center. And keep the National Psoriasis Foundation going strong by making a donation today. Together, we will find a cure.