Wow! The 2016 Patient Conference has already come and gone. It was an amazing experience for attendees and presenters alike. This year’s event focused on the importance of peer support and expert research, and there was a special emphasis on oral care. The conference was full of learning, laughs, and the formation of life-changing bonds.

The Hilton Garden Inn Downtown Austin is located close to some of the best food and entertainment in the city. Austin’s 6th Street has been a famous entertainment hub since the 1970s. It’s home to South By Southwest — Austin’s famous music and film festival — as well as the Pecan Street Festival, which attendees got to catch a bit of after the conference. The street itself is closed to vehicle traffic on Friday and Saturday nights and becomes a pedestrian paradise filled with lights, music, and bustling people.

Terry Rees, DDS, MSD, Director of the Stomatology Center at Texas A&M University College of Dentistry, and I started the conference by giving a joint continuing education presentation to local dentists and patient attendees on pemphigus and pemphigoid (P/P) and the reason why early diagnosis is so important. Dr. Rees covered the academic content of managing patient care, while I gave a personal testimony of my journey to obtain a diagnosis. Together, we presented the whole picture of diagnosing, treating, and living with an autoimmune blistering disease.

Thursday night’s Cocktail Hour, Awards Dinner, and Casino Night were all held at Eighteenth Over Austin — a beautiful venue with 180 degree views of the city skyline. Aimee Payne, MD, PhD, Associate Director of the Medical Scientist Training Program at the University of Pennsylvania, gave the keynote speech. This included an exciting glimpse into the potential breakthroughs of her current research. The IPPF Awards Dinner recognized many people who have worked hard, both in front of and behind the scenes, at the Foundation.

At Casino Night, patients, doctors, and researchers alike tried their hand at games of skill and luck to see who could gather the most chips by the end of the night. Marc Yale, IPPF Executive Director, served as MC, calling out the numbers of winning raffle tickets. Prizes included a Samsung Galaxy Tablet, FitBits®, Sonicare™ electric toothbrushes, Waterpik® flossers, and more!

Friday began with opening remarks from Dr. Rees and Marc Yale. Todd Kuh, IPPF Board Chairman, introduced the Board of Directors and staff.

Sergei Grando, MD, PhD, and a leading P/P expert from UC Irvine, gave a lecture on IVIG. Next, Victoria Werth, MD, Professor of Dermatology and Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and Member of the IPPF’s Medical Advisory Board, spoke of the treatments that are commonly used to treat our diseases. She covered why steroids and immunosuppressants work to treat P/P, as well as how they work. Dr. Werth also covered many of the side effects and complications that come with using such strong medications.

Kim Yancey, MD, Professor and Chair of the Department of Dermatology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, covered the use of topical treatments in the care of patients with ocular, nasal, and oral disease involvement. He stressed the importance of regular checkups with eye doctors, dentists, and ENT doctors, as well as the role of dermatologists in managing lesions.

These lectures were followed by a Q&A session where patients and caregivers were given the chance to ask questions that were not answered in the lectures. Sessions like these give patients power over their diseases because they give them a chance to have an active dialog with experts.

After a short break, Animesh Sinha, MD, PhD, professor and dermatologist at SUNY Buffalo, gave a lecture on genetics. He explained certain genetic characteristics that most P/P patients share with one another and how blood samples collected at the IPPF’s Patient Conferences over the years have helped him in his research.

Dr. Rees participated in an oral care panel with Nancy Burkhart, RDH, EdD, adjunct associate professor at Texas A&M College of Dentistry and member of the IPPF Dental Advisory Council; Paul Edwards, MSc, DDS, FRCD(C), professor at Indiana University and member of the IPPF Awareness Committee and Dental Advisory Council; and Michaell Huber, DDS, professor at the University of Texas HSC San Antonio. This panel gave the patients a chance to ask questions that would help them improve their overall oral health. Topics covered included mouth rinses, brushing techniques, and the best kinds of toothbrushes for P/P patients.

After lunch, participants had the opportunity to choose from different breakout sessions.

The first group of sessions included topics as diverse as “below the belt with A. Razzaque Ahmed, MD; clinical trials with Diana Chen, MD, MBA, FAAD; disease­-specific patient reported outcomes with Badri Rengarajan, MD; and ophthalmology with Dennis Kay, MD.

The next group included a sessions on insurance from BioFusion’s Dinesh Patel, IVIG from Dr. Ahmed, oral care from Dr. Rees and Dr. Burkhart, and Rituximab and next generation therapies from Dr. Payne.

The final breakout sessions featured Dr. Payne’s lecture, “Future Targeted Therapy of Pemphigus,” as well as ”Mindfulness Based & Positive Psychology with P/P” by Terry Wolinsky-McDonald, PhD; Dr. Ahmed’s “Pemphigoid Q&A”; and Dr. Sinha’s “Pemphigus Q&A.”

The day ended with Dr. Kay, Dr. Ahmed, Dr. Sinha, and Dr. Payne sitting for a Q&A session, followed by cocktails and cupcakes. Many attendees then made their way out to explore the best that downtown Austin had to offer.

Saturday was a day for patients by patients. The morning started with breakfast and another opportunity to bond with fellow patients. Camaraderie is so important with P/P. Our diseases can be isolating, and it was awesome to meet others who have walked the same path, many of whom are well on their way to remission.

Mei Ling Moore started the morning sessions with a guided meditation and de-stressing presentation, helping us all to be open to the day ahead.

Next, Valhalla Holeman led us through the emotional story of her son Laten’s struggle with pemphigus foliaceus. There were not many dry eyes during the presentation. Laten’s quiet strength — along with the support of his sister and brother, Myles and Coale, sitting next to him — was truly inspirational.

IPPF Peer Health Coaches Mei Ling Moore and Janet Segall, IPPF Board Member Dave Baron, and I led a patient-to-patient panel. There were so many good questions and comments, and it really seemed to bond our community more tightly together once again.

Roy Vongtama, MD, reinforced the mind-body connection in his lecture. He explained how we might not have control over the stressors in our lives, but we do have control over how they affect us. Dr. Vongtama then showed how posture, breathing, and meditation affect overall health.

IPPF Awareness Ambassador Coordinator Bryon Scott discussed the Awareness Ambassador program and simple ways we can all spread awareness in our networks and with our own dentist. Anyone interested in getting involved should email

Marc Yale then spoke of the work he is doing to advocate at the state and federal level. Marc is a true gem to the foundation. He has lobbied for Rare Disease Day in California and has stormed Capitol Hill with the National Organization on Rare Disorders and the American Academy of Dermatology. Marc broke down barriers and empowered everybody in the room. He made us aware that we, as patients, have the power to change laws in this country. It was truly inspiring.

Todd Kuh then gave a lecture on his “Chasing Down Pemphigus” fundraiser. Todd shared the story of how he felt after being diagnosed with PV and how a single conversation inspired him to regain the active lifestyle he led before his diagnosis.

After Todd, it was my turn to present “The Power of You.” There was a time when I felt I had lost my voice to PV, the treatments, and the side-effects of the medication. But somebody told me that patients are the true experts because we live with the disease. That inspired me to find my voice again, and my presentation focused on the ways we can all be advocates and share our expertise.

After the final presentations, Dr. Rees and Marc gave their closing remarks and hopes for all P/P patients. Everybody was touched. After two days of intensive and inspiring lectures, attendees left feeling united. It felt like we mattered. Doctors cared about the plights of patients like us. Patients felt like they had renewed hope. Some reinforced old friendships from past conferences, while others forged new relationships. I’m looking forward to what the IPPF has to offer in 2017!