A Recap of Rare Disease Week on Capitol Hill

By Barby Ingle, PNN Columnist

Last week was Rare Disease Week on Capitol Hill, and I was excited to join hundreds of patients, advocates and caregivers in Washington, DC to raise awareness about rare diseases.

I was once again chosen as the Arizona “team leader” by the EveryLife Foundation, and led our group in meetings with our Senators and Representatives. I handled logistics for the legislative conference, helped organize the strategy for the meetings and kept the group on task during our discussions.

The EveryLife Foundation is a science-based advocacy organization that works to bring lifesaving treatments to 30 million Americans with rare diseases. There are more than 7,000 rare diseases. The foundation’s focus is on educating and advocating for rare disease patients to ensure they are heard by policy makers in government and by healthcare organizations.

The week kicked off on Sunday with a cocktail reception and Rare Disease documentary screening at the Ronald Reagan Building. We spent Monday at a legislative conference, where we heard from industry lobbyists about important federal bills and learned how the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is researching new treatments for rare diseases.

On Tuesday we split up and went to scheduled meetings with our members of the House and Senate on Capitol Hill. This day of lobbying was for patients, caregivers, and patient advocacy groups only.

Patient and fellow advocate Mike Heil joined me and my husband Ken as we visited the offices of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ).

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One of my favorite parts of the week was Wednesday, when there was a briefing by the Rare Disease Congressional Caucus at the Dirksen Senate Office Building. The caucus is a bipartisan group of over 100 senators and representatives that meets to pursue common legislative objectives to help rare disease patients. You don’t hear much about bipartisanship these days on Capitol Hill, but this group has been active since 2010.

The caucus meeting was followed by a reception that featured a collection of art from across the rare disease community. This event was designed to help educate Congress about rare diseases and to empower patients to express their pain through artwork.

Thursday was full of action as we gathered at the NIH headquarters in Bethesda, MD to mark the global observance of Rare Disease Day. The day featured multiple interactive panel discussions on rare disease research, patient registries and cancer research initiatives, with the theme being "no disease left behind, no patient left behind."

Other highlights included posters and exhibits by rare disease groups and researchers as well as artwork, videos and campus tours. Global Genes participants were encouraged to wear their favorite pair of jeans and to use the social media tag, #RDDNIH to help raise awareness.

This was my second time participating in Rare Disease Week on Capitol Hill. I hope you join me in person or online next year for Rare Disease Week 2020. For more information on the next event, visit the website of Rare Disease Legislative Advocates (RDLA).

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Barby Ingle lives with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), migralepsy and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain FoundationShe is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics.

More information about Barby can be found at her website. 

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.