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Mimi Kennedy

Mimi Kennedy, co-star of TV's Dharma & Greg, is also known as an activist, environmentalist, author, and philanthropist.  Her many contributions to the community include her active involvement with and support of the Spondylitis Association of America (SAA) for many years.  Having concluded five seasons (more than 120 episodes) of the Golden Globe nominated television series, "Dharma & Greg," Rochester, New York-born, Mimi Kennedy is one of the rare actresses who can boast a list of credits including Broadway theatre stage, primetime television drama, variety and comedy series, Oscar-winning feature film and behind-the-scenes work as a director, story-editor and voice-over artist. She also successfully managed to balance a full-time performance career along with a second career as a respected author and as a noted activist in political, human rights, environmental and animal issues while maintaining a devoted, healthy marriage and family life raising two teenagers in Los Angeles.

Mimi Kennedy's memoir of Catholic girlhood, coming-of-age as an actress, wife, and mother, Taken to the Stage: The Education of an Actress, garnered praise for her literary debut.  Kennedy is currently writing her second book, a novel that covers the issue of water and the health of the planet and also about the responsibility of the powerful to take positions of leadership.  

Stop Ankylosing Spondylitis!

For years, Harry Bruckel was our tax preparer, and one of the best parts of tax time for me and my husband was seeing the pictures of Harry and his wife Jane on their previous year's vacation, just after tax time. Harry always described the trip they would take when this year's returns were in.

We saw pictures of Africa, New Guinea, South America, and it was clear the Bruckels were intrepid.

One year, Harry alluded to his wife's illness. They were still traveling, he said, but they'd begun to plan with her limitations in mind. He told us of their plans to start an organization to help people with Jane's condition, because so little was known about it, and they wanted everyone to help each other find out more, and support each other.  He sent us an envelope, when he sent us our returns to sign and submit. The envelope had those imposing words "Ankylosing Spondylitis". That was the first time I saw them, and the first time I contributed to the cause.

Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) is basically arthritis of the spine. "Anklos" means bent, or bowed. "Spondy" means vertebrae. The bones of the spine fuse, slowly, as the disease progresses.  Hips and shoulders can be affected, as well as eyes, heart and lungs.  To the casual observer, someone with AS might look only like someone with an extremely stiff neck, or back pain, or a recent hip or leg injury.  Without being aware that AS exists, people can't even guess that when they see someone who is moving slowly, or struggling with a physical task that seems simple, or cannot turn easily when addressed, might be someone with AS - not an injury, or an attitude, but a chronic, degenerative condition robbing bodies of flexibility and motility. There are more people with AS than cystic fibrosis, Lou Gehrig's disease, and multiple sclerosis combined. 

I have a childhood best friend suffering from MS.  My cousin lost her husband to Lou Gehrig's disease. There is no such thing as competitive diseases, in my mind. I believe that every diagnosed condition will have, and deserves, supporters to lessen the impact of the condition on those affected. To suffer the loss of any aspect of physical health is bad enough; to suffer that in ignorance - one's own, or others' -is isolating and, in our age of communication, unnecessary.

AS is not the arthritis associated with aging. AS strikes the young. The typical age of onset is between 17 and 35. It is the most frequently overlooked cause of persistent back pain in young people.

Awareness of AS will help doctors and patients diagnose the disease earlier. Although there is no cure yet, proper medical management can minimize pain and stiffness and help reduce the risk of disability and deformity, which is enormously important for young people facing an AS diagnosis. Awareness of AS will also generate funds for a cure, and continued development of drugs to mitigate the impact of the disease. Jane Bruckel reports that a new drug she's being given makes her feel "better than I have in thirty years." There is some hope that the new drugs, as they lessen pain and maximize flexibility, might slow the disease's development in significant ways.

Awareness of AS will help everyone respond in helpful ways. Small adjustments such as facing someone directly who cannot turn to you when talking side-by-side, or from behind, can make things much easier for people with AS, but people won't think to make those adjustments if they are not aware of the subtle physical traits that indicate the presence of AS in someone who is otherwise not visibly disabled in anyway.

There is hope for a cure, with the progress of genetic research. The cause of AS, is a mystery shared with MS, ALS (Lou Gehrig's) and so many other degenerative conditions that strike twenty-first century humans. We must be made aware of who suffers, and what they suffer.  I'm proud to lend my energy to the cause of finding a cure for, spreading awareness about, and relieving the suffering of the little-know disease with the big name: Ankylosing Spondylitis.

For more information on ankylosing spondylitis, click here.

For more information about Mimi Kennedy, click here.

Created: 6/29/2002  -  Mimi Kennedy

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