Nearly 30 years ago, I was working in the newsroom of the Boston Globe as a sportswriter when I fielded a phone call from a woman named Mae Long. She was the executive director of the New England chapter of the Huntington’s Disease Society of America and she wanted to know if I would shoot free throws to help find a cure for the disease.
I was 22 years old at the time, a recent graduate of the University of New Hampshire, where I had played four years of basketball. Shoot free throws? Sure. But what was HD? I had never heard of it. What caused it? What were the symptoms? It was a mystery to me.
I went to Mae’s hoop-a-thon, and I was in for a rude awakening. I met a number of HD patients, some whose symptoms had not yet manifested themselves, and others who were in a wheel chair, unable to speak, in the advanced stages of a disease that I learned had no cure and indiscriminately decimated families.
It was impossible to forget those patients, their families and their poignant stories. Their plight stayed with me for days, weeks, and years. Before long, I was attending events, more hoop-a-thons, even spending a year as a national spokeswoman.
Three decades later, I remain committed to the HD community and its quest to find a cure. I’ve met and lost friends with HD, watching them slip away over time with uncommon grace and dignity.
Our family has befriended Meghan Sullivan, one of the rare patients who has been afflicted with early onset of HD. Meghan is only in her 20’s, but she is already in advanced stages of the disease. That has not stopped her and her mother Cheryl from being vocal advocates for the HD community.
I will never forget the evening Meghan stood in our kitchen and calmly explained to my husband Michael and me that she planned to put a face to HD for as long as her body and mind would allow it. She had already lost her father to the disease and promised him she would raise awareness. Her courage was both heartbreaking and inspiring. Though Meghan’s symptoms have limited her, she is still fighting, still honoring her commitment to her father.
If she hasn’t given up, then how can we?
— Jackie MacMullan
ESPN columnist and television analyst