Andy Butscher, a dedicated and long-time volunteer with the Arthritis Foundation, is receiving fruits of his labor. The 18-year-old from Denver is pursuing his dream of becoming an aerospace engineer thanks in part to receiving the Arthritis Champions Scholarship, formerly known as the Winterhoff Arthritis Scholarship.
Butscher, who was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) at 18 months old, is a freshman at Purdue University, which has a top-ranking aerospace engineering program. He says the scholarship, which rewards students who have arthritis for their academic and volunteer achievements, played a key role in his decision to attend college out of state.
Getting Involved: A Family Affair
Butscher was awarded the Arthritis Champions Scholarship because of his long history of volunteering with the Arthritis Foundation. He says the Foundation became like family, especially after his younger sister, Katie, received the same diagnosis when she was also 18 months old.
“My parents got involved [with the Arthritis Foundation] when I was a little kid,” he says. “So, I grew up with the Foundation and volunteering. It’s just kind of second nature for me.”
Having a sister with arthritis helped him feel less alone, he says. But as the older brother, he often put on a brave face to set an example.
“We used to get weekly methotrexate shots, and I would always sing to her while she was getting her shots to try to distract her,” Butscher says.
Being a role model to his sister prepared him to be a Juvenile Arthritis (JA) Camp counselor, which he attended until he was 16. At camp, he says he met some of his closest friends and had meaningful experiences that continue to impact him.
“It was a huge part of my childhood – and a huge part of who I am, even today,” Butscher says. “It helped me make some of my closest friends and learn about my condition.”
In addition to volunteering at camp, Butscher volunteers and speaks at JA Conferences, participates in fundraising events every year, including the Walk to Cure Arthritis and Jingle Bell Run, and advocates with congressmen to fix the shortage of pediatric rheumatologists in Colorado.
Learning to Fly Solo
While Butscher is grateful for the opportunity to attend his dream school, he acknowledges that being on his own can be challenging. On top of settling into a new environment and keeping up with a rigorous course schedule, he’s also responsible for his own healthcare.
For now, he keeps in contact with his rheumatologist from home. Although the distance from Colorado to Purdue University in Indiana is vast, his rheumatologist is only a phone call away.
“The communication has been nice, because I’m able to ask questions or make appointments for when I’m home,” Butscher says. “I feel comfortable asking her questions, because I got to know her personally as well as professionally through the JA camps.”
Since all his medications are in pill form, he organizes them with a weekly medicine container. When he was living at home his mom would fill the container, and he was responsible for taking the medications – with occasional reminders.
Butscher says being on his own forces him to be more diligent with his medication.
“My advice to young adults transitioning to college is to take charge of your medication early,” he says. “It’s enough of a transition already, so start preparing for that as soon as you can.”
Once he gets more settled, Butscher plans to get involved with the Indiana chapter of the Arthritis Foundation to continue supporting the community he has been involved in most of his life.
“I’ve received support from my new friends at school,” he says. “But it’s nice to have that community who understands my condition.”