The Chickasaw Nation took front and center recently, from the tribe’s largest presence to its smallest at Arthritis Foundation/Oklahoma’s “Tribute to Excellence" Thursday.

Nearly 400 attendees were on hand as the Foundation honored Chickasaw Gov. Bill Anoatubby and 9-year-old Danya Impson of the Chickasaw Nation. They were selected because of their commitment to the community and support of the Foundation’s mission to be the leader in the prevention, control and cure of arthritis and related diseases.

The banquet surpassed the previous fund-raising record by 6 percent at its annual dinner, this year the Skirvin Hotel Oklahoma City.

The annual dinner raises funds for and awareness about arthritis -- the nation’s leading cause of disabilities. This year’s totals were an estimated $325,000.

Five years ago, the Foundation began including a child with arthritis as co-honoree for this annual event.

Danya was 5 years old when she was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Today, she sings in the Chickasaw Children’s Choir, loves to laugh and be silly and has been in remission for about a year.

Danya’s mom Lisa Impson believes Danya’s strong will and determination have helped her stay positive even while dealing with the affects of her arthritis.

“The diagnosis has not held her back – not even during her worst days,” she said. “She never complains and has not allowed the disease to stop her from doing what she wants to do.

Gov. Anoatubby has seen first-hand the crippling effects of arthritis. His brother-in-law was diagnosed with arthritis at an early age and still suffers from the painful effects.

With his mission statement “To enhance the overall quality of life of the Chickasaw People,” health-care needs have long been a flagship in Gov. Anoatubby’s administration. In 1992, he served on the Governor's Health Care Commission to study health care in rural Oklahoma. For three years, he served on the board of directors of the Oklahoma State Board for Easter Seals and Crippled Children.

The funds raised through this event will help the AF conduct research to find a cure, provide public/health/educational programs for those who have the disease, and continue advocacy efforts. For more information, contact the Arthritis Foundation at 405/936-3366.