Minnesota at Rare Disease Week on the Hill

Last year when I read Kim Brown’s blog on her experience on the Hill for Rare Disease Week 2016, I told my husband, Trevis, that I wanted to go to Washington DC in 2017 and be an advocate for our precious son, Thomas, who left this earth to become an angel in October of 2015.  After seeing all of the emails from Dean and Teryn Suhr of MLD Foundation and after visiting in person with them and Christine Hoffman when they all made a trip to Minneapolis, I applied for a stipend through EveryLife Foundation and soon I found myself booking flights for DC.  I convinced my husband Trevis to come as well and the next thing we knew we were on our way to DC not really knowing what kind of experience that we would have.

We arrived into DC in the afternoon of Monday, February 27 and met up with Dean and Teryn Suhr and Eric and Christine Hoffman, fellow MLD parents, for the viewing of Rare Disease Documentary Screening of Up For Air at the United States Naval Heritage Center.  The movie was very nicely put together regarding an individual who was living with Cystic Fibrosis, and his journey through the disease.   After a late dinner and lots of travel, we were ready for bed as we knew we had another busy tomorrow learning about all of the policies that we were advocating for in our meetings on the Hill on Wednesday.

Tuesday morning we went to the day-long RDLA Legislative Conference, hoping they would teach us what to say to our Congress men and women on Wednesday.  When we got there we were inundated with a lot of information about current policies affecting the rare disease community.  Specifically they talked about what needed to be included in the Affordable Care Act Replacement Plan to not harm rare disease patients going forward, the Rare Disease Congressional Caucus and its importance, rationale for increased funding related to the National Institute of Health (NIH) and Federal Drug Administration (FDA), and the support of the OPEN ACT.  By the end of the day we felt prepared for our meetings with our Congress men and women on Wednesday.  In the afternoon we were able to go to a breakout session where they taught us how to tell our story which included our plug for why we needed their support within 90 seconds.  We also got to meet other constituents from the State of Minnesota as we would spend most of the day with them on Wednesday telling our story and making our asks of our state Legislatures.

That evening and during the day we were able to meet other MLD families as there were 14 of us representing MLD this year.  It was pretty amazing and let me say our MLD families are awesome, I might be a little biased!  We learned a lot on Tuesday and we were ready for the Hill on Wednesday.

Wednesday, March 1 we got up bright and early for breakfast before they sent us off to the Hill.  We met up with our MN team right after breakfast and headed to our first meeting.  We all had our 90 second elevator speech ready for our meetings with our specific “asks”.  Brett Robertson, a MLD dad, was in our group from MN, but even though we had similar stories our “asks” were very different, which made our meetings even more impactful.  Everyone in our group had their opportunity to present their story and articulate their “ask” to the congressional staffer and/or the Representative or Senator.  We were most interested in obtaining funding for the NIH and FDA, so that we can continue to search for cures for this awful disease.  At every meeting that we had, we left a letter that told Thomas’ Story in more detail along with our specific asks, which of course had pictures of our sweet boy.

As we moved from meeting to meeting we were lucky to get our own tour of the House side of the Capital with former Congressmen Brian Baird from the state of Washington.  Brian is a Board Member of the Pulmonary Fibrosis Advocates as his father passed away from this disease and Paul Fogelberg, who is from MN, the founder of Pulmonary Fibrosis Advocates was also in our group. Paul and Brian have been on the Hill many, many times advocating for rare diseases, which made our meetings even better as they both were able to add pertinent color to emphasize to the Staffer or the Congressmen important issues worthy of their consideration as it relates to the rare disease community.  Our team was a well-oiled machine by the time we went to our last meeting.

Before we headed back to our hotel room, we attended the Rare Artist Reception where we were able to view spectacular art created by artists with Rare Diseases.  We were amazed at the talent that we have in the rare disease community.  Each piece had a unique story, which made it even more amazing.

Overall Rare Disease Week on the Hill was incredible and truly life changing.  It was a very emotional couple of days, but knowing that we were advocating for not only our MLD families, but also the Rare Disease Community as a whole gave us a sense of accomplishment and us asking ourselves what more we can do for the rare disease community.  Thomas is no longer with us, so we now have to continue his legacy and to be his voice for all of the other kiddos and families in the United States that are fighting rare diseases.  We need to continue to fight for cures!  I would encourage all of the MLD families to start planning now to make it to Rare Disease Week on the Hill in 2018.  It was an amazing experience!

Laura & Trevis Alberts

Capitol Hill, BIO, 21st Century Cures, Airbnb, and one more thing … Reflecting on my DC week

The first rule of blogging is to post good content on a regular basis.  The second is to keep your posts short, to the point and to not mix multiple topics into one post.  Oh boy, am I in trouble …
jetitup2016-11
My 6th trip to DC this year ended reflecting at 35,000′ with a Crater Lake Hazelnut Espresso Vodka courtesy of gold status on Alaska Airlines as I flew non-stop back home to Portland Friday evening.

I cratelakevodka admit I was stoked because of so many good people, connections, meetings, and events that I had experienced over the past three days.

And then I connected to Alaska’s WiFi …

Before I tell you what I learned from the world below,  let me share a few of the other highlights … each of which I will share much more about in coming posts.

13 Senate ofice meetings in one day

Jay Griessing of Biomarin set up and attended 14 Senate us-senate office meetings and one House meeting with me … 13 Senate meetings on Wednesday alone!  I have been to Senate offices many times over perhaps a decade – my prior max was 6 or 7 meetings. And better yet, because Congress is in recess (out campaigning) the two of us were very efficient as we meet with the staffers who do the real work on the Hill.

21st Century Cures is alive

curesnowpict We discussed 21st Century Cures, its history and what we hope to accomplish over the next few weeks during the lame duck Congressional session.  The short update … there is a lot of enthusiasm on both the Senate and House side to get #CURESnow passed.  It might be slimmed down a bit but we’ll take it.

Rare Policy

rarepolicy-home-pages-draft A missing voice was identified at 21st Century Cures strategic planning meeting held two weeks ago duringmy 5th trip to DC at the NORD Rare Disease Summit.
We need the voice of the patients, families, caregivers, and general public to push CURES to the finish line.  I am about 24 hours away from launching a platform that lets this audience contact Congress with 1-click in a much more impactful way … and gives those of us managing these programs a lot more ability to build on these grass-roots networks.  I spent three late nights last week communicating with a development team in India … and watching the Cubs historic win streamed to a small corner of my screen.


BIO Patient & Health Advocacy Summit

biosummit2016 I again attended this annual gathering of advocacy and industry. The #BIOsummit2016 sessions and particularly the networking was exceptionally rich this year.  BIO does great job of balancing the content and attendance so we all come away enriched and informed.  I spent time with dozens of people from multiple stakeholder communities … advocacy, industry, policy, organizational leadership, consultants, communications, etc.

Airbnb

airbnd-chic-14th-u airbnb-new-logo-1-1024x863 Ok , I’m adventuresome, frugal with MLD Foundation funds, and we’d reached our quota of room nights with Hilton family hotels to keep our status with them … so I made my first Airbnb reservation and stayed at a place described as Chic designer-rustic, 14th & U Neighborhood, Metro (if you sty there tell them Dean recommend you).  A 3rd floor room, a tiny European style bathroom with a sideways sink, WiFi and great hosts.  I’m no longer an Airbnb virgin.

And then

edengetsherwings201611 One email subject line whisked me from this whirlwind activity, progress, and networking and reminded me of the reality of why I’m doing this … Eden gets her wings”.  Beth is not a MLD carrier and Eden was healthy by all accounts when she was adopted from Ethiopia by her single mother, Beth.  7-year old Eden was finally free from MLD, but no longer with us.  Late infantile MLD starts to show its devastation around 18-24 months, just after Eden was brought to the US to live what was supposed to be a happy healthy life.


#FMLD fmldcar … which properly stands for Fighting MLD … but that’s not quite how I feel right now.  ;(

I love what I do … and yet I hate the reasons I ever had to start doing it.  MLD and Rare Disease are my passion and focus … but there are times where overall health and sometimes even bigger things are the concerns.

more to come …

Rare Disease Advocacy – Behind the Scenes

I ran across this article a few minutes ago. It’s a great insight into the challenges those of us working in rare disease advocacy working encounter.

Every person and agency mentioned in this article is someone we at the MLD Foundation regularly come into contact with as we work on behalf of those with MLD.
http://cen.acs.org/content/dam/cen/91/19/09119-cover.pdf

RARE Patient Advocacy Summit – 2012

I was pleased to be the organizer and host for the RARE Project | Global Genes RARE Patient Advocacy Summit on September 29th, 2012. The day-long event with 140 in attendance and over 120 viewing via a live webcast.  Videos of the event are available below for viewing. Continue reading

Our new blog …

Welcome to the MLD Foundation’s new blog!  We’re excited to share about topics of interest to the MLD, lysosomal disease, leukodystrophy, and frankly, the entire rare disease community.

Many of you in the general public and the MLD Family know us from the family support we provide to families affected by MLD … MLD Family Conferences™, MLD Family Gatherings™, the MLD Family Discussion List™, the MLD Foundation web site, etc., but that is only a part of what we do!

We spend a lot of “behind the scenes” time working with researchers (both academic and at industry) and an increasing amount of effort affecting policy.  We are active in Newborn Screening, FDA policy (PDUFA, FDADSIA, compassionate access, Patient representative Program, etc.), NIH projects (RDCRN, CPAG, NCATS, GRDR, ORDR, etc.), educating and impacting Capital Hill (we can’t “lobby” but our voices are heard loud and clear on funding, sequester, and impacting new legislation), a slew of rare disease activities (registries, biobanks, World Rare Disease Day) and the list goes on.

Continue reading