Coast woman doesn't let disability keep her from living a fulfilling life

PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful and crippling disease that affects more than two million Americans. It often leads to severe disability. But a Pass Christian woman has learned to help herself live a more fulfilling life, and now she wants to help others do the same.

Melinda Winner is the brainchild behind the Flying Pig Cafe on Second Street in Pass Christian.  The 50-year-old owns and operates the business with her friend Barbara Dedeaux.

"I tell people all the time that if you get out of bed and brush your hair and pour yourself a cup of coffee, you're no longer an arthritis sufferer; you're an arthritis survivor," Winner said.

Melinda was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when she was 23, but still manages to run this business.

"People think when you get a crippling disease like arthritis, it's the end of the world. But it's not. You can still live a normal life. But it's a new normal life with limits and balances."

She admits she went through some dark times.

"I had so many pity parties, and gained over 100 pounds and kept it on for two or three years, and laid on the couch all day and cried. Then one day I looked in the mirror and said, 'Who is this person?'"

She was determined to make changes so she could continue to live as normal a life as possible.

"I started walking more and eating a better diet, and doing things other people did; then I got determined."

She had a child to take care of at home, and started coming up with unique ways to work in the kitchen with limited use of her hands.  She wrote a cookbook, "Cooking with Arthritis," and has even appeared on the Food Network.

She wants to share her tips and inspiration with others.

In addition to preparing and serving breakfast and lunch, coffee, smoothies, and other treats at the Flying Pig, she teaches cooking classes for people with arthritis.

"If I go around and say to you every day, 'God, I suffer from this pain and that pain,' that's exactly what's going to happen to you. But if you go around and surround yourself with positive people and positive things and keep a busy mind, a busy mind is a healthy mind."

She hopes her story will inspire others who are discouraged to make the best of their situation and try to live more fulfilling lives.

"You have to keep yourself busy. God gave you one life, one time to dance on this earth. And I don't want to waltz through it. It has to be rock and roll all the way."

Melinda is also reaching out to others by employing people with disabilities, and she displays and sells art at the Flying Pig that is created by artists with chronic illnesses or disabilities.

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