Every so often we have the opportunity to meet a real-life hero. Someone who has dedicated his or her life to a cause greater than themselves. Someone who does not give up that fight even when it involves great personal sacrifice. Someone whose actions have improved the lives of thousands of people. Patricia Furlong is such a person.
We had the honor of recognizing Pat recently when we presented her with the Darrel J. Mase Leadership Award, named for our college’s founding dean.
Pat was a wife, mother and nurse in Ohio when, in 1984, she received devastating news. Her two sons, Christopher and Patrick, were diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a fatal disease for which there is no cure. Pat tried to learn everything she could about Duchenne in the hope of saving her sons. In 1994, she co-founded the research and advocacy organization Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy because, as Pat’s son Christopher told her, “You can’t cure one child. You have to do it for everyone and it probably won’t be for us.”
Pat’s sons passed away in 1995 and 1996, but that did not stop her from working tirelessly for a cure for Duchenne as CEO of Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy. One scientist told her that she would never be able to generate the kind of money needed to support research by holding “bake sales.” As Pat recalls, he said, “You’re going to have to mobilize the government and see if you can deliver a fortune of cash into this field.”
And that’s exactly what she did. After years of lobbying, Pat was given the opportunity in 2001 to testify before a congressional panel about the lack of funding for Duchenne research. Later that year the Muscular Dystrophy Community Assistance, Research and Education Act (MD-CARE Act) was signed into law. Since 2001 more than $400 million has gone to support muscular dystrophy research and education programs.
Throughout the years Pat has taken inspiration from something her son Christopher said years ago: “A life of meaning is the only life to live.” I think there’s a message in that young man’s words for all of us.