2019 Jingle Bell Run Honorees


P.J. Utz MD
Medical Honoree  

Dr. P.J. Utz, a physician scientist who has dedicated his career to understanding and curing human rheumatic diseases, and to building a physician scientist pipeline that extends from high school students all the way to scientists in academia, industry, and government.
Dr. Utz was born and raised in Scranton, PA, and is a first generation college graduate (King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, PA). He developed an interest in immunology research during a summer experience at Roswell Park Memorial Institute in Buffalo, NY, where he worked with Dr. Patricia Bealmear, the godmother of the boy in the plastic bubble (David Vetter), to develop safer bone marrow transplant methods. Although David did not survive his transplant a year prior, this transformative experience led Dr. Utz to Stanford Medical School. As a medical student in Jerry Crabtree’s lab, he co-discovered the NFAT transcription factor, the downstream molecule that is targeted by drugs like cyclosporine. He went on to complete a research residency in internal medicine and fellowship in clinical immunology at Brigham & Women’s Hospital at Harvard where he continued to pursue research in lupus and other connective diseases from 1991-1999. He noted, “An Arthritis Foundation Fellowship in 1994 followed by an Arthritis Foundation Investigator Award several years later launched my career – without these 2 awards, I never would have obtained a faculty job, and I would not be a physician scientist today.” 

This year celebrates Dr. Utz’s 20th year as a Stanford Professor, and his 25th year working with the Arthritis Foundation. In 2018, he was tasked with educating not just MD/PhD students, but all physician scientist trainees at Stanford. He is now the Associate Dean for Medical Student Research, and is leading efforts to promote physician scientist training nationally.

Kayleigh Springer
Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis
Youth Honoree  

Kayleigh Springer has juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) and Uveitis. Uveitis is an inflammation of the eyes. Kayleigh was diagnosed with JIA at fifteen months and Uveitis at 8 years old. Her first medication was Methotrexate, which she was on until the age of thirteen. Kayleigh started to have terrible flair ups in her eyes and jaw after trying to get off the medication and her ophthalmologist had to put her on prednisone eye drops. Her rheumatologist then put her on Humira and Methotrexate. She realized Methotrexate was no longer working and continued only with Humira. Currently she is on Humira and Diclofenac SOD (for pain).

Although having arthritis has negatively affected Kayleigh’s life. It has also improved her life. Through the Arthritis Foundation, she has made lifetime friends, unforgettable memories, learned to be strong and deal with the problem head-on. She also sits on the Board of Directors for the Arthritis Foundation Central Coast North Branch as a Junior Board Member. She overcomes the mental challenge of having a chronic disease by not letting her arthritis get in the way of her goals or dreams and to staying positive. She is currently a junior at Salinas Union High and a member of the San Juan 4-H club. Although managing her JIA can be extremely difficult, she doesn't let that stop her from raising market animals. Which is one of her passions.

She is very excited to be the Jingle Bell Run Youth Honoree and was the first Jingle Bell Run Honoree 10 years ago. Kayleigh and her family have helped every year with the Jingle Bell Run.

Please join or donate to her team Kayleigh’s Elves

Susan O'Brien
Rheumatoid Arthritis
Adult Honoree  

Susan’s journey with arthritis began in 2004, when she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), along with an RA related lung condition. Since that time, she has had many ups and downs in her treatment, utilizing a variety of biologics and anti-rheumatic drugs, prednisone and pain medications to manage her disease and allow her a good quality of life. For many years, on and off, she has been able to enjoy an active lifestyle, including horseback riding, hiking, yoga and TaiChi.

She is an advocate of exercise to help reduce the pain and stiffness of arthritis, her mantra being “movement is the medicine”. Being able to ride her horse was an important goal early on in her treatment and eventually she was able to resume that activity, although in a more limited way. She continued to ride for 10 years after her diagnosis, until her horse passed from old age in 2014. Early in her journey with RA, her rheumatologist suggested she try Tai Chi; a gentle, “moving meditation”, it works every joint in the body, with low impact stretching.

In 2010, when the Arthritis Foundation created a chapter locally, Susan lept at the opportunity to become a board member. She began public speaking about living with arthritis, teaming up with local doctors to deliver presentations in Monterey and Santa Cruz County.

Today, Susan continues to experience the ups and downs of living with RA, polymyalgia rheumatica, rheumatoid lung and their associated complications. Although she is more limited now in her function than in the past, she continues to serve on the Arthritis Foundation Board as the Live Yes Leader and contribute where she can to educate and support others living with arthritis, as well as to actively advocate and fundraise for research to “find the cure”

Please join or donate to her team, CCSS Jingle Joints.