Arthritis Activism

On Sunday, June 4, more than 500 men, women, and children took part in the Western Pennsylvania Arthritis Foundation's Let's Move Together Arthritis Walk. Debbie Thomas, a former Fox Chapel Physical Therapy patient and employee, was among them, helping raise more than $53,000 for arthritis awareness.

"Arthritis affects one in five Americans, and one in three Pennsylvanians," said Thomas, who currently works as a principal project engineer at Westinghouse Electric Company. "To me, this is devastating. With all the scientific knowledge that is being developed today, why can't we find a cure or a way to prevent this crippling disease? Technological advances take money for research. So I push to help finance that cure.

Thomas first became interested in arthritis awareness after her mother was diagnosed with the condition, which greatly limited the use of her hands, making it difficult for her mom to perform common tasks. Thomas began volunteering with the Arthritis Foundation in 2007 and is involved in several aspects of the organization's endeavors, serving as a photographer at foundation events, raising funds for their fall gala, and volunteering at health fairs. "Around the office, they call me the Energizer Bunny," she said with a laugh.

Thomas became interested in physical therapy after her experience as a patient, and worked as a physical therapy aide at Fox Chapel Physical Therapy in 2003. Debbie now lives with osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia; she's committed to helping find a cure, and to staying active.

"I strive to keep moving in order to take control of my arthritis. I'm determined to not let it take control of me," she said. In addition to her job at Westinghouse and volunteer efforts with the Arthritis Foundation, Thomas runs three "hobby businesses" - Rapture Capture Photography, Debbie's Decadent Desserts, and All Things Tomato, and enjoys glass painting and party planning.

Thomas grew up in Maine and Florida, and moved to Pittsburgh in 1979. She loves the city, and wouldn't live anywhere else.

"Pittsburghers have big hearts and are always willing to lend a hand," she said. Thomas encourages all individuals to learn more about arthritis and its effects by visiting the foundation's website at