After back-to-back chronic illness diagnoses of Multiple Sclerosis and Inflammatory Bowel Disease in her 20s, Jackie Zimmerman turned to the internet to find a way to cope and build a support system. Blogging became the outlet she found and she quickly realized that she wasn’t the only one benefiting from her stories. Jackie became a professional blogger and public speaker and in 2012 formed a nonprofit called Girls With Guts to uplift women living with Inflammatory Bowel disease.
Through the process of blogging and developing communities, Jackie honed her skills in digital communications by learning to design websites, create brand recognition and build online courses. She has now turned those into a full time career in her company Queen of GSD. Though she holds degrees in graphic design and information science, Jackie really built her digital marketing skills through the desire to tell her story and she is most passionate about helping others in the chronic illness community learn to share their own stories.
Damian Washington is actor from New York City and has appeared in over 30 commercials and voiceovers for brands like McDonalds, AT&T and Planet Fitness. His YouTube channel NoStressMS, about life with multiple sclerosis, has over 5,000 subscribers and won a 2020 WEGO Health Award for Best In Show. Viewers say the channel helps bring levity to the often grim topic of autoimmune disease.
Mary Pettigrew is a freelance writer/blogger from Dallas, Texas. Her writing is multigenre in nature, with a focus on poetry, prose, essay, narrative interview. She is an ambassador & patient advocate for multiple sclerosis (MS), chronic illness, IBS/D, mental illness & disability rights. In 2014, Mary founded MSpals, an online support organization which has a global outreach on Twitter, Facebook & other platforms. In conjunction with MSpals, Mary created a group geared specifically for those with chronic illness & disabilities to post/share art, music, writing, etc. The group is called “Creative Expression” & can be found on Facebook.
Mary is active with the NMSS (National MS Society), HealtheVoices, WEGO Health and other patient leader/ambassador platforms.
Anna Giannakouros is a mother of three, retired from a career in the Software Industry. She was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 2009 and the disease has currently progressed to the Secondary Progressive stage. Her current mission is to live life in the present and enjoy life to the fullest. She’s an inspiring disability and chronic illness advocate who enjoys blogging and a following on Instagram. She’s an ambulatory power-chair user driven by a health and fitness lifestyle and enjoys cooking and following a Paleo and Keto eating regime.
In 2003, after suffering with symptoms since the early 1990’s, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. As a high school teacher, I educated my school community and raised awareness so much that my MS Walk team consisted of upwards of 400 walkers. In 2011 I learned that I had broken at least 1 vertebra (line due to a fall thanks to MS) and underwent spinal fusion and decompression surgery, and continued to educate my community. Sadly, I became unable to perform
My job anymore and became disability retired in 2014. As I struggled to regain my strength and walk again, I found my way to meditation as a coping mechanism for the extreme sadness I felt, and the depression that was all encompassing. As I began to regain some strength I also incorporated light yoga to keep my body moving and my brain mindful. At the end of 2016 (12/30 to be exact), I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Just like everything else in my life I put a smile on my face and did what I had to, and today I am more than 4 years cancer free. During it all I leaned on yoga and meditation because they are the best non-medicinal tools I know. I even became a yoga teacher so that I could share the benefits of the practice with others because I know first-hand how well it works. Just when I thought I had been given all that I could handle, I was then diagnosed with diabetes in 2018. While I certainly have had my share of obstacles, never once have I asked “why me?”. What I always say is “why not me?”, because I am no better or worse than anyone else and I clearly am swimming in a very shallow gene pool. One thing that has been constant for me is helping others, whether it has been advocating at doctor appointments, helping navigate the difficult waters to SSDI, teaching free yoga classes, or simply talking on the phone with those who need help. From where I stand, despite it all, life is incredibly sweet and I am grateful for every single day.
Dawn Morgan was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when she was 25 years old. Little did she know two decades later she would become a bold patient leader, podcaster, and advocate. Dawn is the cohost of the Myelin & Melanin podcast where Dawn and her cohost interview patients, well known MS specialists, award winning authors, musical artists, actors, and vloggers who are themselves living with MS, or have a unique perspective on the condition and its community. With over 45,000 unique podcast downloads she strives to spotlight the varied and often unheard voices of those within the MS community. Throughout her journey, Dawn’s work has led her to be part of patient advisory committees, an advocate for women’s health overall, partner to Shift MS and Healthline. Dawn has also been featured in publications such as Well+Good, WebMD, Momentum, and Brain & Life, and MS International Federation global face of MS YouTube campaign. Despite her diagnosis she feels that MS has made her a better and stronger person. Dawn is dedicated to using her platform to amplify the many voices of MS.
Julie A. Stamm was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 2007. Following her diagnosis, Julie made it her mission to educate, advocate, and support others battling the disease. She works tirelessly to help lessen the burden each patient has to bear. Her efforts have given her the opportunity to work with physicians, patients, and foundations across the Globe. After the birth of her son in 2016, Julie shifted her focus to supporting the children of parents with a chronic illness. Her children’s book entitled “Some Days We….” was created to normalize differing abilities and amplify how each of us can thrive in spite of the challenges. The movement she has created has changed the apologetic tone and transformed the child and parent’s experiences into uplifting stories that highlight the patient’s resilience.
Brooke Slick is a spirited MS advocate, podcast host and blogger who counsels and connects with patients of all levels of disability from around the world.
Since MS entered her life 19 years ago, she has taken the long and unpredictable walk from able-bodied go-getter to disabled motivator. She draws on her personal experience of living through the physical decline of a once able body to thrive beyond the disability with a positive outlook that transcends any physical shortcomings.
If there is a bright side to a situation, she is going to find it and she’s not going to rest until you are able to pull yourself into the light as well. Her personal mantra, ‘disabled does not mean unable’ is a guiding force behind her message. She vows to empower people living with MS by helping to recalibrate the way they think about themselves and their future with a potentially disabling disease. She wants them to know there is happiness and worthiness to be found beyond your diagnosis.
Brooke’s time spent blogging her multiple sclerosis treatment journey while living in Moscow, Russia, for her followers from over 90 countries at www.msslick.com, and continuing to blog her everyday life at www.brookeslick.com has served her well as she transitioned to full-time advocate. Saying out loud what others are thinking but are afraid to share is her forte. She believes truth telling can heal the soul and free you of a self-encumbered future.
Since May of 2019, she’s used her voice and connections within the MS community as a host of The MS Gym Podcast with download numbers doubling since she came on board. Never wanting to miss out on any segment of the MS community, her episodes have featured anything from applying for Social Security disability, to diets, to depression. Most recently, she was asked to host the MS Gym’s 2020 Virtual Thrive Summit where she interviewed renowned experts in the fields of telemedicine, anxiety, nutrition and the MS connection to the Epstein Barr virus. Brooke’s story has been shared in publications such as the book and podcast, Healthcare Elsewhere, as well as many newspapers, newscasts and medical publications. Using her own experience as a stepping stone, for the past seven years she has been the lead admin for a global group of 7000+ members seeking stem cell transplants for various autoimmune diseases. In addition, she has a loyal following from the autoimmune sector on Instagram and Facebook.
Last, but definitely not least, Brooke created and subsequently patented a versatile mobility/assistive device aimed at providing its users with the independence, relevance and engagement in life that they deserve. She is currently seeking manufacturers to entertain licensing the device while providing international distribution to users in need around the globe. Originally from Pennsylvania, with a legal, medical and marketing background, Brooke spent 10 years based in New York City while traveling the world, and five more in South Florida where her daughter was born, before returning to her roots in Pennsylvania with her husband, Doug.
Watch the Replay:
Join us for an informal, chat-style discussion between the 2021 Innovation Challenge Winner, Pierluigi Mantovani of Evolution Devices, Honorable Mentions, Lucy Jones of FFORA and Tish Scholnik of GRIT, and Judges, Dr. Stephen Squinto of OrbiMed and Patient Ambassador Teresa Wright Johnson, moderated by Lyfebulb CEO Karin Hehenberger, MD, PhD.
If you are interested in hearing first-hand how individuals in the MS community have taken the burden of living with chronic disease, and turned it into a strength to help others, then don’t miss this Fireside Chat. The conversation will spotlight patient entrepreneurship and how patients, working together with industry, is key for the future.
This event, part of our fireside chat series, will spotlight innovative solutions and adaptations, developed by patient entrepreneurs, in order to reduce the burden of MS. We will be sure to discuss today’s MS research landscape as well as what looks most promising for patients.
The conversation will take place at 4pm EST on March 16, 2021.