As I embark upon my second trip to Capitol Hill as a Dystonia Advocate, I reflect upon what this journey means to me and from whence we came. Of course, it’s an honor to speak for Dystonia and interject our issues into the legislative process but there’s even more beneath the surface. Dystonia Advocacy Day is an awesome display of the power of unity, which goes to the heart of our community and is precisely what we need to fuel our hope for a cure. Though Dystonia often feels like an amalgamation of different conditions, we stand strongest together. We share an imperative of unity of spirit, purpose and action.
Not so long ago, as recently as the early 1970s, there were no foundations fighting for us let alone a group of advocates advancing our cause in D.C. The organized cause of Dystonia is a story of the tenacity and determination of parents – including mine – who insisted on combatting a mysterious medical disorder and harboring hope for a better life for their children…also of patients who dared to dream of a world without Dystonia.
The Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) tells a tale of how adversity connects strangers and extends families. When they founded DMRF in 1976, Samuel and Frances Belzberg planted seeds of promise in a destitute garden, carrying on their backs the hope of their daughter, Cheri, and Dystonia patients across North America. Banishing “surrender” from their vocabulary, the Belzbergs determined to slay the beast and support others facing the same foe.
This Vancouver family wasn’t alone. My parents stood tall when research was scarce and every foot forward measured a mile, including their part in the 1st International Dystonia Symposium in NY. I like to think fate brought my father to the Belzbergs but this is best attributed to his resolve to move mountains…or at least cross a continent! In 1981, Dennis and Barbara Kessler made their way to DMRF after their son, Arthur, was diagnosed, donating their hearts and souls. Families such as these – holding little in common beyond a rare movement condition – are bound by unity of spirit and purpose, coming together to light the path towards a brighter future.
Once the snowball gets rolling, it achieves its own momentum. In the early 1990s, Bonnie Strauss, a proactive Dystonia patient in New York, whose mother and grandmother were afflicted with Parkinson’s, teamed with her father, Louis Bachmann, and translated her aspirations into an annual golf tournament that burgeoned into the Bachmann-Strauss Dystonia & Parkinson Foundation. Bonnie enlisted family and friends to join her battle and once again the power of unity spoke loudly. Conviction, dedication, fortitude, perseverance – these are sacred words.
I feel honored to enjoy special bonds with both foundations: my father, the DMRF’s first Treasurer, played a key role propelling DMRF and Bachmann-Strauss is my “home away from home” in New York City. However, most vigorous is my connection with the Dystonia community, encompassing patients, families, caregivers, clinicians, and devoted organizations reflecting the diversity of Dystonia. Led and staffed by remarkable individuals, these organizations raise their voices and help man the front lines in a war that holds promise but has yet to be won. In a world riddled with selfishness, neglect, violence, even insane acts of terror, we all need friends and I’m grateful to everyone who works tirelessly to advance our hope.
I can’t help but marvel at the spirit of cooperation showcased during Advocacy Day, when individuals from throughout the country representing the full spectrum of Dystonia gather as one big family in pursuit of our common objectives. Join the fight – advocate, spread the word, share your story, volunteer, blog, fundraise – the particular action is less important than making that critical step to become involved. We need rise proud as a community, making a difference with a resounding symphony of concerted action. It’s my privilege to participate in the unity of Dystonia and our combined human potential to shape opinions and events. Take that leap of faith, never say “never” and never give up!