Connecticut Rare Disease Day 2020

 In Blog

rare disease day logo on zebra stripes


The end of February signals the time to focus awareness on rare conditions by celebrating Rare Disease Day, a global event addressing the thousands of rare diseases that affect one in every 10 Americans.

Rare medical conditions affect 300,000 people in Connecticut, the home state of Sofia Sees Hope, and 30 million nationwide.

Yes, those are astounding figures that call for astounding action to bring attention to the needs of people living with rare diseases, such as Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), one of the more than 7,000 rare diseases. The day – and its events that happen nationally and in more than 85 countries – fosters awareness needed to drive research for cures and treatments for rare diseases often overlooked by health-policy decision makers and the medical community.

In Connecticut, people living with rare disorders and their families, along with lawmakers, caregivers, advocates, advocacy organizations, healthcare providers, industry leaders and researchers will gather at the Capitol in Hartford to celebrate Rare Disease Day 2020 by highlighting their concerns and seeking help for solutions from state lawmakers.

Sofia Sees Hope plans to relay rare disease advocacy information, including the importance of genetic testing, to legislators on behalf of people living with LCA and other rare inherited retinal diseases (IRDs).

The public is invited to attend this legislative forum and breakfast at the Legislative Office Building, 100 Capitol Ave., Hartford, from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., Friday, Feb. 28, the last business day before 2020’s official Rare Disease Day, Saturday, Feb. 29. The event takes place in the building’s second-floor atrium that looks out to the gold-domed Capitol building.

The National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) is the U.S. sponsor for Rare Disease Day 2020. The Hartford gathering, as with many others across the nation, is organized by NORD and its Rare Action Network (RAN). The focus for this year’s Rare Disease Day is the impact that rare diseases have on patients, families, caregivers, healthcare providers and local communities.   

For more information about this free event, please contact Lesley Bennett, RAN’s Connecticut Volunteer State Ambassador at or 203-829-7650. Also, here is a link to information on all states regarding RAN and Rare Disease Day:

Here’s a look at the prospective speakers 

Dominic Cotton, a father and advocate for those with rare diseases and brain injuries, will emcee the event that begins after the 8 a.m. sign-in and breakfast.

Heidi Ross, NORD’s Director of State Policy, will offer opening remarks, followed by the legislative welcome by state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, Co-Chair of the General Assembly’s* Public Health Committee; Rep. Michelle Cook,* member of the Public Health Committee; Sen. Len Fasano, Senate Majority Leader; and Jean Kelly of Brian’s Hope, a non-profit she and her husband, Jack, founded in 2012 for their son, Brian, diagnosed at age 6 with Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), an x-linked metabolic disorder. The couple advocated for mandatory ALD newborn screening in Connecticut, which was passed as law in June 2013. 

Dr. Karen Rubin, a pediatric endocrinologist at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center (CCMC), and Adrienne Manning, Connecticut’s Newborn Screening (CT NBS) Program Division Director in the Department of Public Health Laboratory, will address diagnoses and treatments in newborns. State law requires all newborns to be screened for certain genetic and metabolic disorders. The program’s efforts help prevent disability and premature death by ensuring newborns receive the screening and, when needed, evaluation and treatment.

Dr. Rubin and Manning are part of a new partnership between the NBS Program and CCMC called the Connecticut Newborn Diagnosis and Treatment Network.

Silvia Vilarinho, MD, PhD, and Donna Sciacca of the American Liver Foundation are  scheduled to talk about rare liver disorders. Dr. Vilarinho, Assistant Professor of Medicine (Digestive Diseases) and of Pathology at Yale University, is a physician-scientist who uses genetics, genomics and human samples to investigate the molecular basis of various liver diseases of unknown causes. Sciacca is the Community Outreach and Education Manager for the foundation’s Connecticut division.

Dr. Joanna Gell of Jackson Laboratories and CCMC will address germ cell tumors, which can be cancerous or noncancerous growths that form from reproductive cells. Dr. Gell is Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the UConn School of Medicine.

Dr. Charles Whitaker, a neurologist who sees patients at the Hospital for Special Care (HSC), will talk about adult neuromuscular disorders.

Laura Morris, mother of a patient with epidermolysis bullosa (EB), a group of rare genetic conditions that result in easy blistering of the skin and mucous membranes, will appear with Rep. Russ Morin, who authored legislation that helped EB patients. Morris is Outreach Coordinator for the state’s Office of Health Strategy.

Dan Donovan, Co-Founder and CEO of rareLife solutions, will address the scarcity of literature on rare diseases.

Father Nikolas Karloutsos will moderate a pediatric panel about the impact of pediatric rare diseases on families. He is a caregiver for his daughter who has a BRAF mutation Rasopathy – probably Cardiofaciocutaneous (CFC) Syndrome – which causes issues with behavioral health and cognition. 

Taking part in the panel will be: 

  • Heather Knapp, caregiver and mother of four, whose youngest was identified at birth through the NBS Program with Phenylketonuria (PKU), an inherited disorder that increases the levels of a substance called phenylalanine in the blood. If untreated, phenylalanine can build up to harmful levels in the body, causing intellectual disability and other serious health problems.
  • Jim Kubicza, who has a son with Angelman syndrome, a complex genetic disorder that primarily affects the nervous system.
  • Information that will be shared on behalf of Marissa B., mother of a child with CDKL5, a neurodevelopmental and epileptic encephalopathy disease characterized by difficult-to-control seizures that begin in infancy, followed by significant delays in many aspects of development. She and her husband provide 24/7 care for their child, who is among those on a years’ long waiting list for a special children’s waiver for Medicaid coverage.  

A panel on the impact on adults with rare diseases will follow, and includes:

  • Carmen Wooster, mother of a daughter with Stiff Person Syndrome (SPS), a rare, progressive syndrome that affects the nervous system, specifically the brain and spinal cord.
  • Beverly St. Onge on Common Variable Immune Deficiency (CVID), one of the most frequently diagnosed primary immunodeficiencies, especially in adults, characterized by low levels of serum immunoglobulins and antibodies, which cause an increased susceptibility to infection.
  • Input on DiGeorge syndrome, a chromosomal disorder that results in poor development of several body systems.
  • The Leeds family regarding hereditary angioedema, a disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of severe swelling.

Paul Pescatello is also set to speak. Pescatello is President and CEO of the New England Biotech Association and chairs Connecticut Business & Industry’s Bioscience Growth Council.

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