Reaching out to the ‘HD family’ at the World Congress on Huntington’s Disease

As I returned on the plane from Brazil and the sixth World Congress on Huntington’s Disease, held September 15-18 in Rio de Janeiro, I was thrilled about my fortified connections to the emerging global movement to defeat HD. I greatly expanded my contacts within the Brazilian HD community, which had the largest representation of HD family members, with more than 60 attendees. After months of frequent contact via e-mail, phone, and Skype, I was delighted to meet in person Taíse Cadore, the president of the Associação Brasil Huntington (ABH), and neurologist Francisco Cardoso, M.D., Ph.D., two key organizers of the event. Along with Dr. Mônica Santoro Haddad, Cadore, Cardoso, and I have worked to raise the profile of HD in Brazil and to involve the government in improving the care provided to patients. ABH volunteers helped put on the congress, staffed an information table, and attended many of the scientific and HD-family-oriented activities. Along with the organizing committee and many other Brazilians contributing to the event, the ABH volunteers made the congress a success. In the coming days, I will prepare a comprehensive report on the congress, including a video of my presentation on coping strategies for living with the HD gene, plus many of the other presentations.

Cramming in activities

For now, I am focusing on the transition from the cultural environment of Brazil – my “other home” – back to my life in San Diego. International journeys require intense, detailed preparation. This one proved especially demanding. After a 25-year stretch in which I visited Brazil annually, including long periods living there, I declined to travel there in 2011 and 2012. Those years my time was taken up by my increasingly public HD advocacy and my added focus on the history of science, technology, and medicine in the context of the Huntington’s movement. The trip felt like a whirlwind: it included the congress, four presentations, other Brazil-related research, and visits with relatives and friends crammed into just ten days. It didn’t help matters that my connection to Rio was delayed some 13 hours, obliging me to spend the early morning of September 13 sleeping on a cot in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. The trip to Rio wound up taking 30 hours!

A life-affirming quest

This was not just another of my expeditions to Brazil. Once again, I was on a mission to help defeat Huntington’s disease, the condition that, unless a treatment comes soon, will relentlessly attack my brain. In addition to helping with advocacy in Brazil and planning a bit of the congress, I spent more than 30 hours preparing the speeches I would deliver in Brazil. The day before I left the U.S., I gave a 90-minute Skype interview to journalist Marcelo Leite, who published an article in the Folha de S. Paulo titled “‘It’s necessary to pass laws against genetic discrimination,’ says historian.” The ABH circulated copies of the article at the congress. A radio reporter who had seen the article interviewed me and others. Senator Aloysio Nunes Ferreira, one of three senators representing the state of São Paulo, Brazil’s most populous and economically powerful state, wrote me a personal e-mail pledging to push for passage of such legislation in Brazil’s Congresso Nacional. I felt a deeply visceral satisfaction meeting with so many of the HD movement’s advocates. It was emotionally wrenching to see people with HD and hear the affected, gene carriers, at-risk, and caregivers tell their stories. Hugging my fellow “HD family” members from far-off lands or shaking their hands joined us in a lifelong, life-affirming quest.


Source: At Risk for Huntington’s Disease 



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