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Rare Disease Day (RDD) is a unique global advocacy effort to bring recognition of rare diseases as an international health challenge.

On March 2, 2015, rare disease patients, caregivers and advocates, rare disease organization, legislators, and industry representatives gathered at the California State Capitol. Will Zrnchik, IPPF CEO, welcomed the crowd and introduced Peter Saltonstall, President and CEO of the National Organization for Rare Disorders. Peter said, “NORD has been working … to find a therapy, make sure the pathways are clear, and to make sure that the incentives are there for industry to want to develop drugs for small populations.” California Assembly Member Katcho Achadjian (D-36) co-sponsored CA House Resolution 6 recognizing February 28, 2015 as Rare Disease Day in California.

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Inside the Capitol, Andrea Vergne, rare disease caregiver and advocate, told her grandson’s story living with a rare disease. Gary Sherwood, Communication Directors at the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, inspired attendees to become self-advocates and work with their elected officials. Adding to the advocacy theme, Eve Bukowski, California Healthcare Institute, echoed the need for patients to self-advocate. A special guest, California State Senator Dr. Richard Pan discussed the importance of rare disease advocacy and research.

Meanwhile, Marc Yale, IPPF Senior Peer Health Coach, and Kate Frantz, Awareness Program Manager, celebrated RDD events in Washington, DC. Marc attended NORD’s special preview of the new documentary “Banner on the Moon.” Patients, caregivers, advocacy groups and patient organizations saw Cindy Abbott’s inspiring. Cindy carries a NORD banner with her on several adventures to spread rare disease awareness. These included challenging herself to climb Mount Everest and participating in the 1,000-mile Alaskan Iditarod. Cindy’s perseverance and commitment to live life to the fullest were very inspiring.

Kate and Marc attended the American Medical Student Association’s Annual Convention. Two P/P patients, Liz Starrels and Mimi Levich, shared their P/P stories. Many students had never heard of P/P, or only briefly remembered it from their textbooks. This was a wonderful opportunity to spread awareness and encourage medical students to “Put P/P on their Radar!”

RDD 2                           RDD

Marc represented the P/P community at the Rare Disease Legislative Advocates (RDLA) conference.  There was an overview of the 21st Century Cures Initiative (http://energycommerce.house.gov/cures), which many believe is the rare disease community’s greatest hope for new and emerging treatments.

Marc also met with several Congressional Members and legislative health experts encouraging their support of the Orphan Product Extensions Now Accelerating Cures and Treatment Act of 2015, H.R. 971. This legislation would re-purpose existing drugs for rare diseases allowing patients greater access to vital treatments.

Marc RDD                                        Marc RDD 2

Marc attended a symposium celebrating rare diseases research efforts across NIH, the Federal Government and the entire advocacy community.

There are over 7,000 rare diseases. 1 in 10 Americans are affected and 95% of these diseases have no approved treatment. Rare Disease Week and Rare Disease Day is an opportunity for the Pemphigus and Pemphigoid community to be heard by advocating for yourself and others.

If you have questions about current legislation or would like information on how you can become involved, please contact marc@pemphigus.org.

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Results So Far

I had a follow-up appointment with Dr. Williams on July 17, 2014, one month after my first infusion and two weeks after the second. She looked at me and I swear her jaw dropped. She was amazed by how well I had responded. That was a fun appointment!

Jack Sherman 7

She had consulted Dr. Anhalt shortly before my treatment. Dr. Anhalt suggested going off of azathioprine a month after my second infusion (August 1), and to start a slow prednisone taper. I asked Dr. Williams if I should stop taking azathioprine now, two weeks before we were planning. We agreed I should stop taking it. One drug down!

Since then I haven’t taken azathioprine. Better yet, I’ve been on a continual prednisone taper. I started on 25 milligrams every other day. A week later, on July 23, 2014 (three weeks after my second infusion) I took these pictures. I was completely lesion free! I was ecstatic to say the least. This far exceeded my wildest dreams!

In January 2014 I am down to 2 milligrams of prednisone, every other day! This is the lowest dosage of prednisone I have ever been on. The best news is my skin is completely void of lesions. Sure I’ve had one or two minor ones, but nothing that doesn’t clear up quickly. Pretty amazing considering where I started.

I’m not claiming remission — yet! While it’s easy to be confident about my recovery, I prefer to say I’m very optimistic about my future living with pemphigus. What I have learned over the years about this disease is things can change pretty quickly. I could end up in total remission, or I could end up needing another round of Rituximab. Either way, I believe I will be better off than had I not opted for rituximab. For that I’m very grateful!

 Continued Support and Education

Each individual is just that, an individual. These diseases aren’t like more common diseases, like Type II Diabetes. If you go to 10 doctors after a diabetes diagnoses you will probably hear the same thing and expect the same results. With pemphigus and pemphigoid being rare, ultra orphan autoimmune diseases, your results and advice will likely vary.

Even though I’m a Peer Health Coach, Marc Yale has continued to be my coach. I can’t thank him enough for his time, knowledge and support he’s given me over the years. My goal is to help patients like Marc has helped me, and share this knowledge with them each and every day. Reach out to the IPPF and use its wealth of knowledge and patient resources. If you can attend the IPPF Patient Conference, I encourage you – I implore you – to go. The information and fellowship really does make a difference!

In the end, my biggest piece of advice to you is to be proactive in you care and treatment. Work with your physicians and create a team committed to your success. Share what you learn from your coach, attending a conference, or from a conference call with your doctor. Ask them to contact the IPPF who will connect them with a P/P expert. Whatever you do, it’s your health and quality of life at stake, so make informed, educated decisions. I did and couldn’t be happier!

Good luck, and good health to you all!

Part One
Part Two

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With pemphigus and pemphigoid, painful oral lesions frequently occur in the mouth and throat. This causes difficulty when drinking or eat- ing solid foods. Let’s face it — it can be just painful! Assessing your individual tolerance to foods and ad- justing what you are eating will enable you to bet- ter understand which foods to eat and which foods to avoid. For many P/P patients, highly seasoned, acidic, or salty foods are irritating. As are foods that are dry, sticky, or abrasive because they can be difficult to swallow. Extremes in temperatures of liquids or sol- ids, such as ice cream or hot chocolate, may cause pain for some. In the case of severe mouth sores, I recommend using a blender or food processor. Here are a few helpful hints to remember:

  •   Drink liquids through a straw.
  •  Cook coarse or hard foods, such as vegetables, until they are soft and tender.
  •  Soften or moisten foods by dipping them in gravies or cream sauces.
  • Sip a beverage when swallowing solid food.
  •     Eat small meals more often instead of one large meal.
  • Rinse your mouth with water while eating (or use water, peroxide, or Biotene afterwards).

• Remove food and bacteria to promote healing.

Having oral lesions can present many challenges including; pain manage- ment, oral hygiene, nu- tritional intake, and your overall health. Speak with your doctor about ways to help relieve the pain. Also make sure they monitor your blood sugar levels if you are taking systemic steroids. Don’t for- get to inform your dentist of your condition and ask them to use caution when treating you. If you have difficulty swallowing, or find yourself frequently choking on food, talk to your doctor. You may want to ask to be seen by an ENT to help deter- mine the extent of your disease activity. With pemphigus and pemphigoid, the mouth is one of the most difficult areas to treat and requires due diligence. Changing your behavior and habits can be the biggest “pain” but will eventually pay off. If you need help, encouragement, or suggestions… just “Ask a Coach!”