REMEMBERING THE MDA TELETHONS

For over forty years, from 1966 to 2010, one of the most successful performers in show business hosted a Labor Day weekend telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The celebrity, Jerry Lewis, was a comedian, actor, singer, director, producer, filmmaker, and humanitarian. It had all started in the 1950’s when the Jerry Lewis Thanksgiving Party for MDA (Muscular Dystrophy Association) raised funds for their New York City area operations.

Jerry Lewis was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1926. According to Wikipedia/Jerry Lewis at https://en.wikipedia,org,, “he was known widely for his slapstick humor in film, television, stage and radio and was nicknamed the “King of Comedy.” In 1946, he met and teamed up with Dean Martin. For the next ten years, they were the top-rated nightclub, television, movie and radio act until their breakup in 1956.” After the break-up, Jerry Lewis appeared on television and wrote, produced, and starred in motion pictures. He headlined in nightclubs, and he sang in albums and recordings.

From 1966 until 2010, Jerry Lewis appeared on television every Labor Day as the host of the round-the-clock telethon to raise money to fight neuromuscular diseases. During his sixty-one years with the fundraisers, the Muscular Dystrophy Association raised $2.6 billion.

What is muscular dystrophy? According to the Kennedy Krieger Institute “Factsheet: Muscular Dystrophy,” the term describes a group of genetic disorders that cause muscle degeneration and weakness. The two most common types are Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy (DMD) and Becker muscular dystrophy (BMD).

According to the factsheet, DMD is usually diagnosed around 3-6 years of age. It primarily affects boys because the gene mutation is located on the X chromosome. BMD is less severe and generally presents in late teens to early 20’s.

Children with DMD will experience a delay in walking, frequent falling, and difficulty getting up from a lying down or sitting position. The factsheet describes what is known as the Gower’s maneuver: “When children with DMD have a hard time standing from a sitting or lying down position, they compensate by pulling to their hands and knees, raising their bottom in the air, then “walking” their hands up their legs until they can brace themselves.”

According to the factsheet, there is no cure for muscular dystrophy or delay of the progressive degeneration of muscles. By the age of 12, most children will need a wheelchair for mobility.

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—By Karen Centowski