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In surprise charity act, school donates spring theater production proceeds to Arthritis Foundation on student's behalf

"It's been a mess of a year," Amaya Appiah admitted.

The Highland Park Middle School 8th grader suffers from juvenile idiopathic arthritis—an autoimmune disease she was diagnosed with at 9 years old.

Since having a flare-up in late January, she's missed large amounts of school.

PMG PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Amaya Appiah (center) is joined by her drama teacher, fellow drama students, and Arthritis Foundation representatives at Highland Park Middle School after a donation was made in her name to the foundation. Pictured left to right: drama teacher Terri Kuechle, Judy Jorgensen of the Arthritis Foundation's Northwest region, Jeremy Leopold, Appiah, Jesse Philbrook, and foundation representatives Loni Sanders and Bridget Monterossi.Appiah takes immunosuppressive drugs to treat her arthritis symptoms, which means her body doesn't heal or fight off illness easily. The 14-year-old Beaverton student is using a wheelchair to get around and says she's been grappling with persistent migraines.

Still, Appiah was in good spirits on a Friday morning, as she waited patiently outside the gymnasium during a school-wide assembly highlighting disability awareness.

Last Friday, April 26, Appiah was accompanied by her mother and members of her school's drama club during the school assembly, when a $1,350 check was presented to the Arthritis Foundation in her name.

The donation came from proceeds of a spring musical performance the school put on.

Appiah has taken part in drama classes and shows throughout middle school.

"I was part of the 'Fame' junior cast," she explains. "I've been in the show all three years."

Terri Kuechle leads the middle school's drama class and has worked with Appiah for years.

"This year, we decided to donate the proceeds from our final performance on March 8th to the charity of Amaya's choice in honor of her work in theater at our school and the challenge she has with childhood arthritis," Kuechle told representatives from the Arthritis Foundation. "Amaya is an amazing young woman. I have grown to love and respect (her.)"

Kuechle joined Appiah and fellow drama students Friday, as they handed over a check to Loni Sanders and other employees of the Arthritis Foundation's Northwest region.

Appiah says Kuechle has gone above and beyond to make sure she was able to participate in her school's theater productions.

"I was honestly kind of shocked," she said of finding out the donation was being made on her behalf. "And the fact that she takes the time to put me in the show … I did cry," Appiah said Friday, peering through oversized wraparound sunglasses she wore to block out light and help ease her migraine symptoms. "I'm so grateful for Ms. Kuechle."

As she waited for her cue to enter the gym, the teen reflected on her school year, which got heavily interrupted by her arthritis and associated symptoms.

"I was just stuck in bed," she said, recalling the last few months. "I've always gotten really sick really easily. My health hasn't always been the best. All of my flare up happened and I was concerned I wouldn't be able to finish out the production."

Appiah said Kuechle assured her she could put her in the performances.

"We decided as a group that we wanted to do something special," Kuechle told the gymnasium full of students about the drama class's decision to donate the show proceeds.

The donation will add to money Appiah has already raised for the foundation on her own.

"Amaya Appiah, her classmates and teachers inspire and encourage us at the Arthritis Foundation to continue our work helping over 850,000 people with arthritis in the state of Oregon alone..." Judy Jorgensen, executive director of the foundation's Northwest region, stated. "We continue to search and raise money for a cure so that kids like Amaya won't have to suffer. With funds like the generous check from Highland Park Middle School, I know we will make more progress."

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