Santee teen advocates for psoriasis as Teen Ambassador

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Maggie Burt is a tall, fair-haired, lively senior at West Hills High School. She’s just like any other teenager—active in her church and strong ambitions for the future. But many of her discussions deal with matters most teenagers do not deal with. This advocacy brought Burt into the limelight of psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis as the Teen Ambassador for the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF).

Maggie Burt is a tall, fair-haired, lively senior at West Hills High School. She’s just like any other teenager—active in her church and strong ambitions for the future. But many of her discussions deal with matters most teenagers do not deal with. This advocacy brought Burt into the limelight of psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis as the Teen Ambassador for the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF).

As a child, Burt continuously suffered chronic elbow and back pain, and random aches. At first, considered an orthopedic issue, she was treated for the symptoms. But with the onset of adolescence, skin problems surfaced that diagnosed her with psoriasis, a chronic condition effecting as many as 7.5 million people in the U.S. When Burt’s knee became inflamed after bearing weight due to a sore ankle, the family suspected psoriasis and joint pains might be linked. They were proven right. Burt was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in December 2012, which afflicts 10-30 percent of people with psoriasis.

“At first the diagnosis was a relief, we knew what it was and we could treat it,” said Barbara Burt, Maggie’s mom. “But then it hit me, what will her future hold? Will her treatments lose potency, will she always have access to the care she needs and how will this effect her career?”

Managing the disease was the first step. Coping and getting comfortable with a “forever disease” came next. Barbara Burt said her daughter developed the confidence she needs to live—thrive, even—with a lifelong disease with no cure.

A hope for a cure is where the National Psoriasis Foundation came into Maggie Burt’s life. Assigned a school project for physiology, she chose a topic that resonated with her, and found an NPF health fair where she met Stephanie Gerhart, a local representative for the NPF. Gearhart saw something special in Maggie Burt and asked her to be the Teen Ambassador for NPF. 

On Oct. 13 at the Walk to Cure Psoriasis, Maggie Burt stepped up to the role, cut the ceremonial ribbon and “helped with a lot of little things.” She now serves as a vibrant face of this disease, which, she said, “has been turned around and used for a good thing, to help people.” That is the “best part” of being a Teen Ambassador, she said, to “use this opportunity to benefit others and their families.”

Championing the cause to live well with psoriasis/psoriatic arthritis, raise funds and bring awareness are positive outlets for Maggie Burt, because the down sides of the disease can be taxing. Cold weather, weekly injections, medications, prolonged standing or walking is difficult, and requires advanced planning.

Next for Maggie Burt is deciding on a college. She said she likes art, especially paints, charcoal, and sketching. Her disease has not dictated her endeavors. She has not ruled out teaching in the future, maybe career in animation, and she is decidedly not letting psoriatic arthritis derail her plans.

Maggie Burt’s advice to anyone dealing with a chronic condition, she said, is “learn to accept it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

As the Teen Ambassador for NPF, it may be Maggie Burt who provides the help she recommends others seek, which would make perfect sense, since gracefully and bravely, she has proved how well she can help herself.

World Psoriasis Day was this week on Oct. 29. To learn more can log onto www.psoriasis.org.

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