Telethon 2009!

by Kathy Wechsler on July 1, 2009 - 4:11pm

QUEST Vol. 16, No. 3

This Labor Day weekend, stars will gather in Las Vegas for the 44th Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon. Broadcast live from the South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa, the legendary show will reach out to millions of viewers around the world.

Jerry Lewis
Jerry Lewis

MDA National Chairman and Telethon star Jerry Lewis and friends are pumped up for 21½ hours of top-notch entertainment, information about MDA’s research and medical services and inspiring stories from families affected by muscular dystrophy and related diseases.

Returning as Telethon co-hosts are Television Personality Jann Carl of “Entertainment Tonight;” Alison Sweeney of the hit daytime drama “Days of Our Lives” and host of the reality series “The Biggest Loser;” Nancy O’Dell of “Access Hollywood;” and Tom Bergeron of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and “Dancing with the Stars.”

All four serve as MDA national vice presidents, a voluntary position.

New MDA roles

Jann Carl and Ace Young
Jann Carl and Ace Young

O’Dell also recently accepted another advocacy role for MDA, to serve as the Association’s National ALS Ambassador. O’Dell lost her mother in June 2008 to ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease).  She joins MDA ALS Division co-chairs Augie and Lynne Nieto in raising research funds and public awareness of ALS.

Also returning to the Telethon with a new MDA title is Luke Christie, the ebullient 16-year-old who served as 2006 and 2007 MDA National Goodwill Ambassador and 2008 Harley-Davidson MDA Goodwill Ambassador. Christie now is MDA’s National Youth Chairman, a role he inherited from his good friend, award-winning country music artist Billy Gilman. Christie, of Due West, S.C., has type 2 spinal muscular atrophy (SMA2). He will host the youth segments of the Telethon.

Co-hosts Billy Gilman and “American Idol” finalist Ace Young also will perform on the show. In the past year, each accepted the role of MDA Celebrity Ambassador.

Abbey returns

Alison Sweeney

Anything but camera-shy, Abbey Umali of Redlands, Calif., returns to the national broadcast excited and ready for action. She’ll be making several live appearances with her parents, Wendi and Joel.

The enthusiastic 10-year-old is affected by a form of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, and is in her second year as MDA’s National Goodwill Ambassador, a role she takes very seriously. Abbey and her parents spend the year traveling the country, spreading the word about MDA’s missions of help and hope.

The Nietos

Tom Bergeron

The Telethon will welcome back MDA ALS Division co-chairs Augie and Lynne Nieto of Corona del Mar, Calif., for the fourth consecutive year. Augie Nieto received a diagnosis of ALS in 2005.

In addition to spreading the word of MDA’s battle against ALS and encouraging ALS research efforts, the Nietos spearhead MDA’s Augie’s Quest, an initiative that raises funds to “fast-track” ALS research.

Family profiles

This year’s family profiles will feature four outgoing, committed and talented individuals and their families, who will discuss living with muscle disease and the importance in their lives of MDA’s programs of research and services.

Tyler Myers and dad, Brad
Tyler Myers and dad, Brad

The youngest is 4-year-old Kayla Vittek from Rocklin, Calif. Kayla, who has myotonic muscular dystrophy, is ambulatory with leg braces and communicates using American Sign Language.

In addition to participating in horseback riding therapy once a week, Kayla loves to read, dance, listen to music and play basketball with her parents, Jeff and Lisa. The Vitteks are active with MDA, participating in fundraisers and volunteering at the local Sacramento Telethon each year.

Tyler Myers, 12, of Las Vegas, is affected by Duchenne muscular dystrophy and uses a power wheelchair for mobility. Talkative and outgoing, Tyler enjoys MDA summer camp, video and board games, swimming, and animals of all kinds.

Tyler, who served as the 2006 Las Vegas Goodwill Ambassador, is active with

Caroline Pennell with mom, Robin
Caroline Pennell with mom, Robin

MDA, participating with his family in the Harley-Davidson “Ride for Dreams,”

Lock-Ups, Shamrocks kick-offs and golf tournaments.  He appeared on the local Las Vegas Telethon broadcast in 2000 and 2008.

Caroline Pennell of Chesterfield, Va., loves art, the outdoors, swimming, boating, dancing and socializing with friends. Caroline, 14, has limb-girdle muscular dystrophy (LGMD). She’s ambulatory and sometimes uses a power wheelchair.

Billy Gilman

Caroline and her family are active participants in many local MDA events, such as Fill-the-Boot, Lock-Ups and Stride & Ride. She has been the local MDA Goodwill Ambassador, was profiled on the 2008 Richmond Telethon and was featured in a local video message for Lowe’s, an MDA national sponsor.

Vance Taylor lives with his wife, Casey, and daughters, Isabelle, 4, and Samantha, 2, in Oxon Hill, Md. Taylor, 31, who has LGMD and uses a power wheelchair, works at the Washington, D.C., lobbying firm Catalyst Partners.

Nancy O'Dell

Taylor, who co-hosted his local Washington Telethon last year, regularly attends MDA summer camp to speak to teens about college, work, family and independent living. He also has accompanied Annie Kennedy, MDA’s vice president for Advocacy, on visits to Capitol Hill to lobby for issues of importance to the people served by MDA.

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