AARDA Thanks Its Top 10 Volunteers with a Monthly #AutoimmuneHeroes Campaign

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by Magdalena Kegel |

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The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA), celebrating its 25th year, recently announced its #AutoimmuneHeroes for April, which is national volunteer month in the U.S. The AARDA campaign honors those individuals who have supported the group’s work throughout the years.

Those spotlighted in AARDA’s #AutoimmuneHeroes campaign are people and organizations contributing significantly to various aspects of the autoimmune disease agenda, working in any of the fields of research, patient safety, advocacy, public education and awareness, or service and volunteerism. They have aided AARDA in becoming a national organization, influencing the lives of all Americans living with autoimmune disease, as well as their families.

AARDA will announce new #AutoimmuneHeroes each month, for each of the 12 months of the campaign.

For April, Autoimmune Heroes particularly acknowledges the work of 10 people who have dedicated more than 20 years to the organization. The individuals, their efforts and their motivations, detailed in a recent press release, are:

Ruth Kibler for her role as AARDA’s longest serving “go-to” volunteer — since 1991 — helping with tasks from answering phones and office work to sitting on the fundraising committee and getting out the newsletter (and everything in between).

Marilyn and the late Thomas Assiff for their work to support AARDA’s patient education and outreach activities, and for creating AARDA’s first database.

Abby Bernstein for her advocacy work, lobbying the U.S. Congress to raise awareness of autoimmune disease and the need for increased autoimmune disease research funding.

Natasha Leskovsek for her patient and physician advocacy and education work, using her legal skills to help translate science from the bench to the clinic for the benefit of patients.

Donna DiSante, Chuck and Susan Gaidica, Carolyn Ugval and Barbara Willett for their fundraising and special events work at AARDA’s headquarters in Detroit, organizing highly successful annual events, soliciting donations, recruiting volunteers, and raising awareness for autoimmune disease and money for research.

Among the volunteers, Marilyn and Thomas Assiff became involved with AARDA soon after Mr. Assiff was diagnosed with lupus. Mrs. Assiff said that the benefits of the engagement has not been one-sided. “It has been a mutually rewarding relationship as AARDA provided us much-needed education and support about Tom’s autoimmune disease, and we could volunteer our time and dollars to support AARDA’s vital outreach to other patients and their families,” she said.

Donna DiSante has been working with AARDA over the past 20 years. She first came in contact with AARDA to help with a fundraising event, and learned about the immense impact various autoimmune diseases have in society.

“Based on my own experience with rheumatoid arthritis, and the struggles of relatives and friends with type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, lupus, Crohn’s disease, psoriasis, and scleroderma, I realized the necessity of finding a common factor,” said Mrs. DiSante. “I greatly admired AARDA for the research they’ve brought forth, the education they provide for medical professionals and the public at large, and for their advocacy efforts for all people with autoimmune disease. I congratulate Virginia Ladd, Dr. Noel Rose, the AARDA board and staff, the dedicated medical professionals and the many volunteers who contribute to this noble work.”

“AARDA’s volunteers, many of whom have personal experience with autoimmune disease themselves, have been and remain today the life blood of our organization, helping us to grow exponentially over the last 25 years and positively impact the lives of the 50 million Americans who suffer from these diseases and their families,” said Virginia Ladd, founder and executive director of AARDA. “We salute these autoimmune heroes and thank them for their continuing and unwavering support.”