By Charlotte Harris, Contributing Writer
On Saturday morning, students and community members wearing light blue T-shirts braced the early morning chill and gathered outside the Whittemore Center for the University Of New Hampshire’s seventh annual Team Hope Walk to benefit Huntington’s disease.
The three-mile walk around campus is part of the Huntington’s Disease Society of America’s nationwide effort to raise awareness and money for the degenerative brain disorder.
Huntington’s disease is a hereditary disease that currently affects approximately 30,000 Americans, and leaves about 250,000 more are at risk. It destroys the nerve cells of the brain, slowly decreasing the patient’s ability to walk, talk and think.
The current lack of knowledge about Huntington’s disease is what makes raising awareness so important, which is where Team Hope comes in. The Huntington’s Disease Society of America began Team Hope Walks in 2007, and since then the fundraisers have collected over $4 million to put towards the disease.
Durham is one of over 100 cities that take part in the walks and fundraising campaigns. Following the walk, participants gathered for a reception behind the Whittemore Center complete with music, snacks and a raffle.
Members of the UNH crew team were on hand to help organize the event and support the walkers.
Huntington’s disease is a cause particularly close to the crew team, as the wife of one of the program’s main supporters has Huntington’s.
“We help out with the walk to give back to him,” said Emily Burke, a senior on the crew team.
Speaking with other members of the team, it is clear that raising money and awareness for Huntington’s disease is important to them. Susan Campbell, captain of the team, and Lisa Harning, president, discussed why they think Team Hope is a worthy cause.
“There’s no known cure, and they’ve made almost no progress researching it,” Campbell said, adding that spreading awareness about the disease is especially important, considering that it is passed down through families.
“If somebody in your family has it, you have a 50 percent chance of having it, so you should get tested,” Harning said. Austin Arsenault, another member of UNH Rowing, said that he is taking part in the Team Hope event because Huntington’s “is an awful disease that people don’t really know about.” He compared the efforts to raise awareness for this less-known disease to the recent ALS ice bucket challenge.
Walkers of all ages turned out to the event, with participants ranging from toddlers to college students to older folks. Various families came out to support the cause as well, including several for whom the cause hit close to home.
Katy Beddie, whose father was diagnosed last April, participated in the walk with her family with the goal of raising money and awareness to find a cure for Huntington’s.
“There’s not a definite cure,” Beddie said, and although her father was diagnosed last April, they don’t know how long he’s had it. The uncertainty of the disease makes the diagnosis all the more difficult for the family. The Team Hope walk was the community’s way of bringing attention to a lesser-known disease that deeply affects families emotionally, socially and economically.
The lack of research and knowledge on the disease gives families little comfort, but efforts like the recent fundraising walk provide the affected families with a source of hope.