By Erica Verrillo
On Monday, December 9, 2013, a small group of ME/CFS activists gathered in front of the San Francisco Federal Building to protest the IOM contract. The demonstration was organized by Susan Kreutzer, a former attorney and long-time ME/CFS patient.
The purpose of the demonstration was to draw attention to the continuing governmental neglect of over one million ME/CFS sufferers in the United States – 17 million worldwide – and to hand deliver two petitions totaling 6,000 signatures to the regional HHS office located in the Federal Building. The petitions demand an increase in funding for research into ME/CFS, the immediate adoption of the Canadian Consensus Criteria (CCC) to define the illness, the canceling of the IOM (Institute of Medicine) contract to define ME/CFS, and officially dropping the misleading name “chronic fatigue syndrome” in favor of the term used by the World Health Organization, myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME).
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To start the event, Jeff Kreutzer and Edward Burmeister unfurled a seven-by-six-foot banner displaying the 3,000+ signatures from a petition initiated by Patricia Carter. The 95-page petition demands the cancelation of the IOM contract and the adoption of the CCC. A second petition with nearly 3,000 signatures, started last summer by Mary Dimmock, also demands the adoption of the CCC and the elimination of the demeaning name “chronic fatigue syndrome.” To bring the point home that ME/CFS affects people everywhere, Susan arranged a display of flags representing the home states and countries of those who had signed the petitions – all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and 34 countries spanning the globe.
Susan Kreutzer, Jane Pannell, an RN disabled by ME/CFS, and Edward Burmeister spoke about the inequities of NIH funding, the ramifications of yet another vague definition resulting from the IOM contract, and the devastating impact of the illness on millions of people all over the world.
Nothing could express the frustration of the ME/CFS worldwide community better than the comments on the petitions. “Walk a mile in my shoes!” says Carol Baker (Australia) in a direct challenge to officials who have designed policies preventing funding and halting the development of treatments. Many more patients wrote that there was “no way to describe this illness” and explained how they had lost their careers, friends, and lives to the disease. In one particularly poignant message, Jana Buzolic (Croatia) wrote, “I got ill when I was 22 years old. This is when my life ended and the twilight began.”
Tomorrow Susan Kreutzer will again demonstrate at HHS headquarters in Washington, DC. We can only hope that when she hand delivers the bound copies of these petitions to Secretary Sebelius, and to 21 Congressmen and Senators on Wednesday, that they will take the time to read what these 6,000 people have written.
“For 30 years,” says Susan, “we have waited in line for the government to listen to us. We’ve had enough.”