UA softball Coach Mike Candrea hopes to hit a home run in support of the University of Arizona Arthritis Center and its research efforts at the 2017 Bear Down Luncheon on April 26.

“The affiliation between Wildcat athletics and the UAAC is a long-standing tradition that goes back to the early days of Lute Olson. Supporting the UAAC’s mission and efforts to defeat arthritis as a debilitating disease is a privilege for me,” said Candrea, featured speaker at the event.

An eight-time NCAA champion who will be inducted into the coaching Hall of Fame this October, Candrea will share anecdotes and insights gleaned during 32 seasons. Candrea’s talk is sure to be unforgettable, said Paul Cicala, sports director at KVOA, who will serve as master of ceremonies.

“I feel honored to be able to introduce Mike Candrea, who has had an amazing coaching career: He is a UA standout and he is going out of his way, along with doctors at the UAAC, to help others,” said Cicala, one of the more than one million Arizonans battling arthritis.

Cicala, who has psoriatic arthritis, said he is proof arthritis impacts those of every age, including children and young adults. Psoriatic arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease that occurs when the immune system mistakenly begins attacking healthy joints and skin.

“I was in my mid-20s and in the best shape of my life. I could still dunk a basketball and I was lifting weights every day when I started having sharp pains in my legs that spread to the rest of my body. My digits on my hands and feet started swelling and they tested me for multiple sclerosis and many other ailments, but they never considered psoriatic arthritis,” said Cicala.

Cicala’s condition deteriorated rapidly. Walking caused extreme pain, he was unable to open jars or complete simple household tasks and it became increasingly difficult to work. When he was finally diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, Cicala said the medications Enbrel and Methotrexate saved his life.

“I am almost back to being the person I used to be and I am so thankful to the UAAC and all of the fine doctors who continue to do research to find treatments for arthritis. To this day I don’t take walking for granted; I take pride in walking when I run errands, walking up A Mountain or Tumacoc Hill and doing other things I thought were taken away forever,” he said.

Dr. C. Kent Kwoh, arthritis center director, said the center offers specialized care for patients who are living with cutaneous autoimmune diseases such as psoriatic arthritis, lupus, and scleroderma.

Kwoh said the center’s multi-disciplinary approach, which includes bench-to bedside research, also utilizes specialists in orthopedic surgery, geriatrics, immunology, medical imaging, pharmacology, integrative medicine, epidemiology, public health, exercise, nutritional sciences, podiatry and biomechanics.

The list of specialists is expanding with the recruitment of new physicians and the center’s ongoing distinction as Arizona’s only rheumatology training program for medical students, medical residents and fellows. Kwoh attributes many positive developments to the partnership between Banner and University Medical Center and the continued support of the community and institutions such as the UA Department of Athletics.

“There is a shortage of rheumatologists nationwide and here in Tucson. We want to continue to expand our programs to try to meet the need for caring for patients with arthritis in clinics where different specialties can practice together to provide specialized care in an academic medical center. This allows patients to see a number of specialists at the same time or on the same day, which is particularly important for patients with arthritis because these are multi-system diseases,” Kwoh said.

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at ninch2@comcast.net