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August is officially National Psoriasis Awareness Month, and Oregon City resident Danielle Bolton has a message for all psoriasis sufferers: “You don’t have to be afraid to have it, and even if you do have psoriasis, you can always be beautiful.”

by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Danielle Bolton, 14, will celebrate her 15th birthday a day early by taking part in the Portland Walk to Cure Psoriasis on Sunday, Sept. 22Danielle, 14, is a youth ambassador for the National Psoriasis Foundation, based in Portland, and will be taking part in the Portland Walk to Cure Psoriasis held on Sunday, Sept. 22. She did the 5K walk last year as well, and raised $600 for the foundation. She is hoping to raise that much or more this year.

Danielle will be a freshman at Oregon City High School this fall, and was diagnosed with plaque psoriasis in September 2011, just as she was set to attend Ogden Middle School.

Plaque psoriasis is a skin disease where something in the blood “causes skin cells to grow too fast for the body to process, so they build up on the skin, causing itchy red patches to form,” Danielle said.

Her doctor told her it was probably something in the environment that triggered the psoriasis, since genetic factors were ruled out in her case; she has flare-ups in the fall and winter, when colder weather comes along.

Because she had noticeable red patches on her face on the first day of school in 2011, she “was nervous that people would judge me or come up to me and ask me questions.

“But when I told my friends, they totally accepted me. Some people did ask me what was on my face, but I learned to be more confident and learned that I was not the only person to have psoriasis,” Danielle said.

What she wants people to know first and foremost about psoriasis is that it is most emphatically not contagious, and it does not have to stop anyone from living a normal life.

“I play sports, I go swimming, I don’t let it affect what I want to do,” Danielle said.

No cure, but tanning helps

When she was diagnosed with plaque psoriasis, she was told two things: There is no cure, and she was too young to take any prescription medications. She was given a host of topical creams and ointments, but nothing worked.

A turning point came for Danielle when she attended a dance competition and “a girl told me her brother was using a tanning bed” to control his psoriasis.

She began to use a tanning bed for three minutes two or three times a week during a flare-up, and that worked to control her psoriasis.

Danielle’s father, Ted Bolton, said he had always been opposed to tanning beds, because of the danger of skin cancer, but was sold on the process when “my daughter started getting relief after just four visits.”

He wants parents to know that many tanning salons will give student discounts to young people trying to get their psoriasis under control.

“I want to do anything I can to help her; children are most precious,” he said.

Getting the word out

As a youth ambassador, Danielle has several goals.

“I want to get the word out about psoriasis as much as I can. I go to elementary and middle schools and talk to them about psoriasis. I tell the students it is not contagious, and they should not judge people by their appearance.”

Last year several of her friends joined her for the Walk to Cure Psoriasis, and she gave a speech at the event. Because this year’s event is the day before her 15th birthday, she is inviting friends to come and help her celebrate.

She has become pro-active, seeking support for the Portland-based national foundation, asking the Oregon City Kiwanis Club and neighbors to donate to the organization. She also is looking for sponsors for this year’s walk, and said people could go to the NPF website, click on donate, type in her name and donate money on her behalf.

“We are very proud of her,” her father said, adding, “She has always had good self-esteem and she is so beautiful. We didn’t want that taken away. I’m proud that she is so self-confident and wants to help other children.”

Disease has host of triggers

“Psoriasis is a chronic disease of the immune system, where the immune system overreacts to faulty signals to the brain, causing skin cells to grow too fast,” said Noe Baker, the public relations manager for the NPF.

“Psoriasis is the most common auto-immune disease in the country, with 7.5 million sufferers nationwide; there are 89,000 in Oregon,” she said.

The disease has triggers, such as stress, strep throat, medications, smoking and alcohol use, Baker said. The most common form is plaque psoriasis, like Danielle has, and the second is gutate psoriasis, triggered by a reaction to strep throat, she said.

The foundation was formed in 1968, when the founder’s husband placed a classified ad in a newspaper, seeking a support group for his wife. When hundreds of people replied, the foundation was formed and is now the “world’s largest nonprofit organization for people with psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis,” Baker said.

The NPF has a number of missions, she said, including funding research grants for scientists in the field and fellowships in medical research for up-and-coming doctors studying psoriasis.

“We sponsor walks in various cities to raise awareness about psoriasis and raise funds. We also support medical education and encourage advocates around the United States to lobby for more federal funding and to make access to care easier, along with improving insurance coverage for people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis,” Baker said.

Walk to Cure

For more information about psoriasis, visit psoriasis.org or call 503-244-7404. The Portland Walk to Cure Psoriasis will be held on Sunday, Sept. 22, at the Rose Quarter Amphitheatre. Check-in is at 8 a.m. Register online at the above website.

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