Kelly Rouba-Boyd Takes on Fashion Week

Kelly Rouba-Boyd Takes on Fashion Week

New York’s iconic fashion week is known for many things: the unveiling of the latest in designs and color, VIP parties where models and guests mingle in luxury, and bold fashion designers who work to put on shows that will awe and inspire their audiences. Countless young girls around the country see these remarkable shows and fantasize about one day being one of those beautiful models gliding down the runway in haute couture. Kelly Rouba-Boyd had such a dream once, but she didn’t advertise it. As a young girl, she already knew that the effects of Rheumatoid Arthritis would limit certain activities. A Fashion Week catwalk was far enough out of reach that she never mentioned how much she would love to be one of those models.

Then, one day, she got a call. The call came from Michael Kuluva, a designer who was planning a show for his line Tumbler and Tipsy.  Michael also has arthritis and had met Kelly some time previously as they are both members of Creaky Joints, an awareness-building organization. He was preparing his show for fashion week, he told her, and he wanted to put her on the runway. The moment she heard the offer, she accepted it through a veil of quiet tears of joy. One call had given her the dream she had never dared mention to anyone.

Some people who are diagnosed with arthritis as a child never get to know a life without chronic illness. Kelly was one of those children. She was diagnosed at two years old with symptoms so severe, there was little doubt in the doctor’s mind that rheumatoid arthritis was the explanation for what ailed her. At the time, in 1982, treatment options were limited. The doctor recommended baby aspirin, something that these days might be considered akin to a band aid on a gunshot wound.

With little in the way of available treatments, Kelly’s disease progressed rapidly causing severe and irreparable damage to her joints and tissue. She was in a wheelchair by elementary school. While other kids were just beginning to learn the ins and outs of socializing, Kelly already understood the meaning of being different and the pain of being excluded from participation in many things.

Arthritis, while it can ravage the body, leaves the mind as healthy as anyone’s and Kelly was and is a person of strong intellect. She excelled in school—taking honors courses and impressing teachers, soaring above many of her fellow students. In a way, her intellectual ability compounded her frustration with her illness. For a long time, her arthritis filled her emotionally with resentment about her lot in life. She avoided self help books and wanted nothing to do with any type of literature suggesting a positive approach to dealing with a chronic illness.

In university, something in her outlook changed. She realized that her arthritis, while still a physical burden, could become a catalyst for creating meaningful change in the lives of others. She wrote a book of her own: Juvenile Arthritis: The Complete Teen’s Guide. She competed for, and won, the title of Ms. Wheelchair New Jersey. She spoke out as an advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. And she keeps herself ready and willing to live in the spotlight as a beacon of hope for those who wonder, as she once did, how to go on when faced with seemingly insurmountable impediments in life.

Kelly is now the 2nd Vice Chair of and a national spokesperson for the Arthritis National Research Foundation. She is also a member of Creaky Joints. For both organizations, she continues to advocate for people with disabilities and she contributes to finding a cure for Juvenile Arthritis.

At Fashion week, Michael Kuluva was delighted to have the opportunity to showcase his fashions on the beautiful Kelly Rouba-Boyd and to have the opportunity to raise arthritis awareness. He works as an advocate as well and it is reflected in his fashion line which contains many easy to wear and comfortable features for ease of wear by people with inflammation or limited mobility.

Kelly sparkled as she took to the runway in a stunning ensemble inspired by nautical themes. The lights were bright, the music was booming, and the cameras were clicking away. It was everything you might imagine a glamourous show at fashion week to be. The experience was everything Kelly had secretly hoped and wished for. It was, in short, a dream come true.


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Article Author
Arthritis National Research Foundation

The Arthritis National Research Foundation's mission is to provide initial research funding to brilliant, investigative scientists with new ideas to cure arthritis and related autoimmune diseases. Writing articles about the patients affected and the science being done to find a cure shows why we need to come together to #CureArthritis!

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