People help MDA because MDA helps people

Posted: Tuesday, September 08, 2009 by Travis Cody in

Jerry Lewis is 84 years old and he makes me a little nervous. He's wobbly on his feet and he gets out of breath just speaking, let alone trying to make it through the MDA telethon theme song, Smile. He's been the driving force of a 59 year battle to raise funds for patient care and medical research to find cures for over 40 neuromuscular diseases that fall under the umbrella called Muscular Dystrophy.

I'm afraid he won't make it to that day when a cure is found. He was so scattered during the bits of the telethon I was able to watch. It was a little painful to watch.

The cure is so close. Scientists have identified so many genes that have led to clinical trials and then to actual therapies that have slowed the degenerative progression of many of these diseases.

There's still a long way to go. But there continues to be hope.

This little girl raised over $5000 for MDA by reading books. She read 35 books, each of more than 100 pages. Her name is Abbey Umali and she is the 2009 MDA National Goodwill Ambassador. She's 9 years old and this is her second year in the role.

Abbey is from Redlands CA and has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, in the form of congenital hypomyelinating neuropathy. It attacks her coordination and balance, and causes muscle weakness.

She's a bright-eyed little girl with a quick sense of humor. She wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up.

And when Jerry asked her at the end of the telethon if she would be the goodwill ambassador for a third year, she said yes and said it's the best job in the world. The child isn't a victim, she's an advocate...she's her own advocate and an advocate for others afflicted with these diseases.

I miss Ed McMahon. I miss his voice introducing the corporate sponsors. I miss his banter with Jerry. I miss his call for a timpani to roll the national tote board. What I saw of the show seemed disjointed without his presence.

It bugs me that I don't get to watch the whole telethon anymore. But, I can't fault the networks I guess. They certainly make more money with the advertising on reruns and sporting events and major Sunday movie events. Spider-Man 2 was on my FOX network Sunday night. And all those paid advertising segments had to run in the wee hours of Monday morning. That's important stuff.


Here's what we miss when we only get a shortened version of the annual telethon. We miss the information about research. We miss the annual progress report. That's the critical result. That's the pay off to your pledge. These positive results in discovering possible treatments are the goal, and they are developing rapidly due to the money raised throughout the year by MDA. That's what we get from the telethon, and that's what helps to raise more money.

The telethon is still bringing in the donations to continue to fund comprehensive patient care, promote advocacy and education, and to fund critical research to find treatments and cures for the over 40 neuromuscular diseases that MDA fights. And I would love to watch the whole show like I used to be able to do. It's really the last great vaudeville show.

I have done volunteer work for this excellent organization. And I send my money every year, always $1 more than last year. If you haven't already done so, I encourage you to send a few dollars. You can donate throughout the year by going to the MDA website.

I have said this before. Americans can be cynical. Americans can be self-righteous. Americans can be loud, obnoxious, and stubborn.

Americans are also generous.

This year, in this economy, Americans contributed $60,481,231. Last year's total was over $65m, so although he failed to get his $1 more, I'd say Jerry had a successful telethon nonetheless. And I want to thank everyone who reached down and found a few dollars to donate.

The International Association of Fire Fighters collected $28.5m, mainly from their Fill the Boot campaigns.

Other corporate sponsers such as Safeway ($10.2m), Citgo Petroleum ($11.0m), Harley Davidson ($4.5m), and others added millions more. All of that money goes to make sure that the research continues, and that comprehensive health care provides whatever is necessary to improve the quality of life for MDA patients and their families.

Jerry Lewis has championed this cause for 59 years, 44 years on television with the annual Labor Day telethon. The first telethon in 1966 raised $1 million. To date, Jerry has raised more than $2 billion from private donations.

Please give till it helps.


  1. Thanks for posting this... I find the story about the little girl ambassador very inspiring :)

  1. Anndi says:

    I thought about you alot this weekend...

    How awesome is that young lady!

    And can I say WOOOOOOO Firefighters!!! :)

  1. barb says:

    I use to watch a lot of it, but never all of it. I think the telethon is what is keeping Jerry going. He's been looking frail for years now. It's one of the charities I support, too. I wish every horrible disease had a celebrity/someone prominent to fight to eradicate it like Jerry has tirelessly done for MDA.

  1. So cool about the little girl and the books!

  1. Akelamalu says:

    Sounds like a great cause Trav. :)

  1. Great post Travis. Jerry Lewis is one awesome man! I watched him sing that song "Walk on" at the end yesterday. It was hard.

  1. I remember the MDA Readathon! I was the highest in my middle school in the 7th grade thanks to my teachers having brainfarts and pledging me 1 buck a book. I raised nearly 1k which was a heck of a lot back in 1981 =) It's a great charity!

  1. Jamie says:

    Jerry is a miracle that keeps going despite age and infirmity. There are so many great entertainers now missing from the ranks who used to appear for Jerry's kids. I too missed the network slot and the real support. My kids first started collecting 40 years ago. Let us hope cures come soon.

  1. Travis says:

    Terra: If you have the time, find a video of her on youtube. She is extremely well spoken.

    Ann: She's amazing. Fire Fighters rock!

    Barb: His health has been iffy for a number of years, but this is the first time he made me so nervous.

    Charles: I know! What a fantastic message for all kids.

    Akelamalu: It definitely is.

    NNG: His charity work makes him a hero to me.

    Starr: I wish I'd known about hop-a-thons and read-a-thons when I was a kid. We just went around and collected money in the 7/11 banks.

    Jamie: A cure is so very close. I just don't know if it's close enough for Jerry to make it.

  1. we always help to fill the boots...

    great post Travis.

  1. Like others, I used to watch the telethon as a kid. I don't watch much any more. While I was never a huge Jerry Lewis fan, no one can deny the great work he as done for MDA. I would love for them to find a few cures or vaccines for some of the various forms of MD before Jerry leaves us. He deserves to see at least one breakthrough.

  1. Jeff B says:

    I caught bits and pieces of this year's telethon. Like you eluded to, Jerry did look a bit haggard. Sad to see, but at the same time, great to see him still giving it his all to further the cause.

  1. The fact that all the previous money and research have not brought forth a cure is a bit of a distraction from all the breakthroughs and treatments now available because of the work done so far.

    I'm glad you've worked hard for this previously, Travis, and even though Jerry Lewis was MC-ing like a wobbly 84 year old, it's good to enjoy what he can do while he can do it.

    He once performed at the theatre where I used to work, and that was a very memorable performance for me.

  1. jennifer says:

    I've heard "Give till it hurts" but I like your phrase, "Give till it helps" much better.

    I feel like I've grown up watching the telethon. His was the first cash pledge that I ever made as an 'official' adult.

    Jerry Lewis has a legacy filled with compassion and generosity.

  1. I remember watching the telethon when I was younger (OK, a lot younger). I didn't even realize it was on this weekend until I heard them talking about it on the news yesterday.