Katharine Moser '03
"...to [my patients] I'm not just staff, I'm family." -- Katharine Moser
When Katharine Moser's grandfather was diagnosed in 1985, Huntington's disease (HD) became an unspoken reality for the Elizabethtown College alumna and her family.
"In the past, HD was a secret disease," she says. "We knew we had it, but it wasn't something you talked about." It was in this silence, though, that Moser found her voice – a voice today that is increasing awareness, raising funds, and offering hope to those who face this hereditary disorder. In recognition of her spirited fight, the New York Metro Area Huntington's Disease Society of America recently presented Moser with its 2006 Giving a Voice to HD Award.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, HD "results from the genetically programmed degeneration" of cells in the brain. Passed from generation to generation, this disorder causes progressively worsening symptoms, including uncontrolled movements, loss of intellectual faculties, and emotional disturbance. Currently, there is no cure for HD – only medication that helps control its physical and mental effects.
As Moser watched her grandfather's slow decline, she realized that the silence surrounding HD is what most hampers the fight against the disease. "If no one knows what the disease is, who is going to help support a cure?" she asks.
As a student at Elizabethtown College, she began her one-woman campaign against the disorder. What started as small fundraisers in college now has blossomed into a life centered around providing hope to others. A skilled occupational therapist, Moser currently works with patients with HD at the Terence Cardinal Cook Health Care Center, the same facility in which her grandfather lived during the last 10 years of his life. In addition to working with patients, she also routinely counsels families about the disease. Moser says that her own HD diagnosis offers the families comfort.
"It's not the easiest thing, facing my future every day," she says. "It helps, though, because to them I'm not just staff, I'm family."
The voice that she uses daily on the job rings out through her volunteer efforts, which include speaking to community organizations, training medical students about occupational therapy and physical therapy techniques for working with patients with HD, and continuing her fundraising efforts ranging from Hoola Hoopathons to homemade dessert auctions. She even is reaching out to the next generation by authoring a children's book on HD. "I want the children in my life to understand this disease and not to be afraid," she explains.
Caption: In recognition of her spirited fight against Huntington’s disease (HD), Katharine Moser ’03 (shown center) was presented the 2006 Giving a Voice to HD Award by the New York Metro Area HD Society of America.
--This article originally appeared in Elizabethtown College Magazine.