The surgery isn't the only recent change she's made in her arthritis management. Ginamarie used to take methotrexate and adalimumab, or Humira, but she went off that regimen with the approval of her rheumatologist, Anne Eberhard, MD, chief of Pediatric Rheumatology at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center in Manhasset, N.Y.

"Occasionally we can give a patient a drug-free holiday if their arthritis is in remission," but only under a doctor's supervision, Dr. Eberhard says. "When symptoms come back, we have to start medications again."

Rebuilding Strength

Ginamarie knows she may eventually have to take drugs again, but for now she's feeling OK with a gluten-free, dairy-free diet and exercise: She walks and does Zumba, a Latin-inspired dance fitness class.

And she works out her hand on a device called an outrigger. The outrigger, which she says makes her look a little like the Terminator, uses cables attached to her fingers to help realign them and build strength through resistance training.

Her right hand is sometimes stiff, and she can't form a tight fist, which means she occasionally has trouble holding onto small items like pennies. But she doesn't experience the fatigue or debilitating pain she did before and has more mobility –which makes it much easier to write.

"I was in excruciating pain before," she says. "Now I can work for hours with no pain."

Throughout her surgery and rehab she's had support from her family, including her identical twin sister Annamarie Russo – and from all her boxing friends. The fighters who'd never had hand surgery were in awe; one even jokingly wanted to know if she was going to replace her knuckles with brass knuckles.

And the boxers who had seen Dr. Melone for surgery: "We have an unspoken appreciation for one another's hand issue," she says. "I keep in touch with several of them. They have become my friends."