August 30, 1999
The 21 and 1/2-hour broadcast, shown on some 200 stations, has become a Labor Day tradition, and this year will offer the first live multilingual Webcast, providing real-time Internet programming as streaming video in English, Spanish, and Japanese at www.mdausa.org.
Raising a record $51.5 million in pledges and contributions in 1998, the Telethon is watched by some 75 million viewers in the U.S. and Canada and by Internet users from 64 countries.
Funds raised during the show help the fight against 40 neuromuscular diseases by supporting basic and applied research, a comprehensive program of medical and support services, and far-reaching professional and public education.
Children and adults with neuromuscular diseases in communities nationwide benefit directly from public support of the Telethon. For example, some 230 MDA-supported clinics offer medical care, physical therapy, and flu shots.
MDA also sponsors 85 free summer camps for more than 4,000 youngsters with neuromuscular diseases across the country. Support groups for family members, along with assistance with the purchase and repair of wheelchairs and leg braces, are other MDA programs made possible by Telethon-generated donations.
The show was inaugurated on Labor Day weekend in 1966 and broadcast by only one station in New York City. It was the first televised fund-raising event of its kind to raise more than $1 million in pledges. The Telethon grew steadily, and by 1970, it was carried by 65 stations nationwide. In 1998, it became the first worldwide telethon, when an Internet simulcast of the national broadcast, hosted by AT&T and RealNetworks, was seen on MDA's website.
In 1996, the American Medical Association presented Jerry Lewis and MDA with Lifetime Achievement Awards for "significant and lasting contributions to the health and welfare of humanity." Parents Without Partners, Inc. International recognized both Lewis and MDA with 1997 Distinguished Service to Children Awards.
MDA-funded scientists have made major advances that have put treatments or cures for neuromuscular disorders in sight. They've also pioneered significant advances that may lead to therapies for heart disease, cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, Parkinson's, and cystic fibrosis. Recently, MDA researchers have secured permission from the Food & Drug Administration to proceed with a safety trial of gene therapy for a form of limb-girdle muscular dystrophy--the culmination of several years of effort.
MDA grantees are developing techniques that may make gene therapy possible in several genetic neuromuscular diseases. They have assisted with development and testing of potential drug therapies for Lou Gehrig's disease; investigated the potential beneficial effects of creatine in increasing muscle strength in several neuromuscular diseases; pinpointed gene defects that cause dozens of specific neuromuscular disorders; developed genetic tests for several neuromuscular diseases, including FSH muscular dystrophy and spinal muscular atrophy; investigated heart problems in several types of muscular dystrophy, including myotonic dystrophy; pursued improved treatments for autoimmune diseases, including myasthenia gravis; and tested potential new drug therapies for several neuromuscular disorders.
Over the years, entertainers, athletes, and leaders in business, government, and civic affairs have participated in the Telethon and taken part in other MDA fund-raising events. Among them are Ed McMahon, longtime Telethon anchor and national MDA vice-president; actress Ann-Margret, chairperson of MDA's Myasthenia Gravis Division; and singer Maureen McGovern, chairperson of MDA's Polymyositis/Dermatomyositis Division, who also serves as an MDA national vice-president. Other luminaries serving as MDA national vice-presidents include sports greats Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Brad Johnson, and Bart Conner; editor Walter Anderson; entertainers Max Alexander, Jann Carl, Carrot Top, Charo, Cynthia Garrett, Wynton Marsalis, and Casey Kasem; International Association of Firefighters president Al Whitehead; and renowned heart surgeon Dr. Michael E. DeBakey.
Jerry Lewis has been MDA's number-one volunteer for nearly 50 years.
Anyone interested can get information on how to help MDA as a volunteer or sponsor by calling 1-800-572-1717, or by visiting MDA online at www.mdausa.org.