Living with ataxia and advocating around the world #RareDiseaseDay

Cathalijne van Doorne
President Euro-ataxia
Vice President European Federation of Neurological Associations
Board Member European Reference Network – Rare Neurological
Diseases (ERN-RND)

 About ten years ago I was diagnosed with a rare neurological
disorder with the name ataxia. Many symptoms of ataxia can
mimic those of being drunk – slurred speech, stumbling,
falling, and incoordination.

My background as a medical biologist and my training by Eurordis gave me the tools to specialise in patient participation in research.

Last year I spoke at a meeting at the Euro Parliament about the outcomes from research that are most relevant to patients and how different those outcomes are from those chosen by other stakeholders. If you ask ataxia patients what they fear most, the majority will tell you that it is to loose the ability to speak or see. Researchers, however, choose the distance patients can walk. Since my talk I learned that a lot of pharma have adopted the ataxia example to educate their colleagues of the importance of patient involvement in their work.

It is really important to raise awareness about rare diseases. Patients experience stigma every day. My suggestion is to start small and begin close to your home. Explain your disorder to your neighbour, to the cashier of the supermarket, to the bakery, etc. My experience is that people are really nice, understanding and helpful when they are informed.