Operation Shooting Star Aiming High
By Joanne Shriner, Staff Writer
That’s the motto of Operation Shooting Star, a local organization dedicated to increasing awareness of autoimmunity and its diseases while being committed to sending 100 percent of fundraising efforts directly to research.
Operation Shooting Star Director Audrey Killen was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in November of 2009 and her father was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis in 2006.
Upon finding out of her own diagnosis, she immediately dived into serving the cause of funding research to find a cure.
“Basically right after my diagnosis I needed something positive to focus on,” Killen said.
After volunteering with other organizations, she found that she was capable of planning and organizing her own drive to find a cure while donating 100 percent of the funds raised, and that is how Operating Shooting Star was formed.
“I just want to focus on helping people find a cure,” Killen said. “I don’t want to manage the disease. I just want to fix it.”
After speaking with her doctor and Director of Research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine Dr. Walter Royal III and the Director of Development Darren Parker, she was steered in the right direction to being fundraising.
In creating Operation Shooting Star, Killen began to wonder what the connection was between MS and her father’s condition of Rheumatoid Arthritis. Upon doing research, she found it came down to autoimmune diseases.
“We have the same exact disease. It is just that our immune systems is attacking different parts of our body,” she said, explaining there are over 80 different autoimmune diseases. “The problem is your immune system is not only doing what it is supposed to be doing, fighting viruses and bacteria, but it is also fighting the good stuff and it is fighting against you.”
With the help of Killen’s family, friends and co-workers, they were able to pin down a space at Trader Lee’s in West Ocean City for their first event in November of 2010. They raised close to $5,000 through ticket sales, a bake sale and a silent auction. All items involved with the benefit were donated so that 100 percent of the fundraising could be given to the University of Maryland with no expenses deducted.
“The whole community came together,” Killen said. “That is what really started it. It was like now we know we can do it, and it is possible to do things at no expense and get donations and to have people come together.”
Killen presented a check from that event to the University of Maryland in 2010. Royal and Parker gave her and her husband a tour of the research lab.
“We could actually see what the money was going towards,” Killen said. “We shook hands with the people in the white coats, and they … took off their gloves and showed us what they were doing, it was just that intimate.”
Throughout this year, Killen and her team spent most of their time developing Operating Shooting Star’s non-profit status, but they were still able to put on a number of fundraisers including Pour for a Cure at the Cottage Café and the next night served hot chocolate at the Berlin Christmas Parade.
Through those and other events, the organization was able to raise over $4,000, which was presented to the University of Maryland this past weekend.
“One hundred percent of the money that we raised on all those things went into the account and I am going to dump the account, write a check and give it to the University of Maryland,” Killen said last Friday.
Killen and her team, including her “go to girls”, Assistant Director Amanda Evans, Alina Mellinger and Heather Shingleton, are already working on this upcoming year’s fundraisers.They are in collaboration with Bayside Golf Course for an event to be held on Sept. 2, 2012.
“It is going to be our biggest fundraiser, and hopefully it will be every year,” Killen said.
The day will include a fun day of golf followed by an after party with dinner, live entertainment and a silent auction. Also, Royal plans to be on hand as guest speaker.
“What I learned in a community like this is it is very generous and people care, and that made a huge difference -- being in this community,” Killen said.
Visit www.operationshootingstar.com to learn more.
There are 1 comment(s).Keep up the good work! You are right on target with your discovery that many diseases come from a common cause but the body reacts differently. My husband has an undiagnosed condition but, through all my research, I'm convinced his body had an autoimmune response. I hope doctors will soon learn more about autoimmune diseases through research and the money you are raising will certainly help. Good luck to you!
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Finding the Positive
By Andrea Bowland, Executive Editor
The change from summer to fall for many is represented by a return to school, an adjustment in wardrobe, and drop in temperature. For Audrey Killen, fall means she’s less likely to end up in the hospital. The heat and humidity that is mildly bothersome for most people, is a potent adversary for Audrey.
The worst “episode” happened while Audrey was vacationing with family in Chincoteague this past Memorial Day weekend. She experienced a sudden onset of scary symptoms—chief among them, loss of vision in one of her eyes, a condition known as optic neuritis. Audrey ended up in the hospital for three days with a steady stream of steroids being pumped into her veins through an IV. Following an additional change in regular medication, her eye site was restored.
As strange as it may seem, flare-ups resulting in loss of vision are simply part of life for Audrey, and others like her. Audrey has Multiple Sclerosis, diagnosed in November of 2009 after symptoms that included numbness and tingling--initially thought to be a pinched nerve—that began in August of the same year. Compared to the average length of time it usually takes to diagnose the disease, this process was quite fast. But it began with a series of wrong directions, and no concrete answers. As Audrey explained,
“Some people just accept the initial diagnosis [when faced with an unexplained health crisis], which could be the wrong diagnosis. I was diagnosed in five months—very quick. I truly believe it’s because I was proactive and my doctors were proactive.”
From the beginning Audrey has resigned herself to taking charge of her health. But that’s not to say it’s been an easy journey. When faced with any disease that doesn’t have a cure, the patient has to learn to live it with it, often in a drastically modified way. Sometimes those changes go far beyond the physical symptoms.
Audrey wanted to become an actress, and lived in Manhattan for a spell to pursue her dream. She returned to the Eastern Shore to help out her family during a difficult time. She then stayed close to home and obtained a job at the Ocean City Convention Center as the office manager for the Centerplate, a national corporation that happens to have very good health care.
Audrey’s medication is $4,000 a month; each MRI (she needs about six a year) is $1700. Formerly employed as a bartender and hopeful actress with no insurance, treatment for her disease would not have been possible. Audrey is certainly thankful for her job and enjoys it, but she’s also tied to it in a way most people aren’t. She needs it to maintain her treatment—which also means her dreams of becoming an actress are on the back burner, perhaps permanently.
Audrey isn’t the type of person to dwell on that kind of reality—looking back now she sees the progression of events as a kind of “meant to be scenario.” And even in the direct aftermath, Audrey very quickly decided she needed to be positive, do something that could help her cause.
“I was not willing to accept this is it, that I was just going to give myself a shot everyday.”
Creating Operation Shooting Star
Initially she involved herself in organizations already in place. And while it was nice to be part of the fight, Audrey wanted to do things a little differently. It takes deep pockets and a large operational budget to maintain a national foundation with various chapters and groups. After seeing how much donation money had to be allocated to simply running some of the organizations, Audrey decided to create her own foundation—simplify the process, and tackle more than just MS—she was going after something larger.
Multiple Sclerosis is a disease that affects myelin—the protective coating on the brain and spinal cord. Lesions and scar tissues form, resulting in the symptoms Audrey experienced, and a host of others. MS is a part of an umbrella group known as Autoimmune Disease. Over 80 such diseases have been classified including Type I Diabetes, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, MS, and even various skin disorders. These seemingly very different diseases are grouped together because of their shared underlying problem—the immune system, whose normally functioning purpose is to protect against infection, but in these diseases, it overreacts and attacks the body instead.
Autoimmune Disease affects an estimated 5 to 8 percent of the population, with a much larger percentage of those affected being women, and diagnosis is on the rise. They tend to strike in women of childbearing age, often after a pregnancy. In others, they surface after a difficult illness, or stressful situation causing emotional and physical taxation. In Audrey’s case, she had come home to take care of her dying grandmother. In the aftermath of that trauma, she experienced her first documented episode.
These diseases can be debilitating, crippling, and their complications can lead to an earlier death. The fact that very little was being done to figure out the “why” piece of this puzzle, coupled with her desire to help others, caused Audrey to create her own foundation, Operation Shooting Star.
Audrey felt that most doctors tend to treat the symptoms instead of looking for a root cause—she wanted to contribute directly to those doctors and research projects that would find the cause, leading to a cure. During a scheduled appointment with her specialist Dr. Royal at the University of Maryland, Audrey discussed her idea. Dr. Royal heads up the Maryland Center for Multiple Sclerosis, and assured Audrey that not only would every dollar raised go to research, but that she could even select the project to put the money towards.
Even though this research facility is concentrated on MS, Audrey’s feeling is that,
“All of these [autoimmune] diseases are caused by the same underlying problem, it just manifests in different ways in different people. You find the cause for one, you find the cause for all.”
That mentality is behind the slogan for Operation Shooting Star, “Cure One, Cure All.” Recently the University of Maryland announced the allocation of grants in support of an Autoimmune Disease research facility—indicating that the medical community may in fact share in Audrey’s belief.
Operation Shooting Star began when Audrey held an event at Trader Lee’s in West Ocean City. Business and community members were completely supportive and donated everything needed. Following, Audrey wrote a check for $4,862 to Dr. Royal, and had the privilege of walking through the research facility at the University of Maryland to see exactly where the funds were going. It was a hugely rewarding experience, and the moment she knew she could do this—Operation Shooting Star had become a reality.
For now, Operation Shooting Star is a one-woman operation. In addition to her regular job, and dealing with the effects of her disease, Audrey has to carve out time to run a foundation. This is her baby right now—she’s nurturing the foundation in its infancy--often when she’s already exhausted, but she’s excited to watch it grow, and knows she has started something that has the potential to affect millions.
Find out more on Audrey’s story, Autoimmune Diseases, Multiple Sclerosis, and Operation Shooting Star, here.
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MS sufferer organizing disease research fundraisers
A number of area fundraisers are being held to support the nonprofit Operation Shooting Star, which was founded by a Multiple Sclerosis sufferer to research cures for autoimmune diseases.
The Operation Shooting Star Bazaar will be held on May 7, from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. in front of “4 The Shore Furnishings” at the Williamsville Industrial Park, which is located on Lighthouse Road. The rain date will be May 8.
The second event, Fishing for a Cure Tournament, will be held at Records and Chipman Ponds in Laurel, Del., on June 4, from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Active fishing will take place between 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. There is a $40 entry fee per angler and a $10 fee for a 50/50 lunker entry. The top ten anglers will be awarded prizes. Rules and entry forms are available at your local bait and tackle store or by calling 302-344-6434 or 302-542-9034. The rain date will be June 5.
After being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2009, Audrey Fisher Killen volunteered for numerous organizations to fund research for a cure. Killen’s father had also been afflicted with Rheumatoid Arthritis for several years, which is an autoimmunity disease like Multiple Sclerosis, in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy body tissue. Killen became frustrated that only a small percentage of the money she raised for other groups was donated straight to research, so she created Operation Shooting Star to research prevention of that trigger and aid all such diseases.
There are an estimated 24 million people suffering from over 80 different autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, type 1 diabetes and psoriasis.
For more information about Operation Shooting Star and any upcoming events please visit www.operationshootingstar.org or www.facebook.com/operationshootingstar. Any e-mail inquiries may be sent to email@example.com.
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Working For A Cure
When Audrey Fisher Killen was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at the age of 28, she wanted to do everything possible to help find a cure for the chronic, unpredictable neurological disease that affects the central nervous system.
After months of visiting doctors because of tingling and numbness in her fingertips, hands and feet, Killen, who lives in Roxana, Del. and who works at the Ocean City convention center, was officially diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in February. She started treatment in March and receives injections every other day. She said treatment is going well, although she experiences fatigue.
Killen immediately got involved with national and community organizations that work to raise funds that support research. She also participated in the Walk MS event on the Boardwalk in April and, with help from friends, family and co-workers, she was the fourth-highest fundraiser, collecting $1,700 in donations for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
“I did it because I needed something positive to focus on,” she said. “I spent a lot of time on it and fundraising helped me focus on the positive rather than the negative.”
After nearly a year of putting in time, hard work and effort to raise funds for different organizations, she became frustrated when she realized only a percentage of the money was going directly to the cause. She wanted to be able to cut out the “middle man” so all funds raised would be used to help find a cure. It led her to create Operation Shooting Star. Her goal is to have 100 percent of donations to the organization fund research.
The inaugural fundraising event for Operation Shooting Star will take place Saturday, Nov. 6, at Trader Lee’s, located on the corner of routes 50 and 611 in West Ocean City. The festivities will begin at noon and continue until about 8 p.m. The $10 cover charge includes food and live entertainment by The Geezers, Aaron Howell Band, Woodstok Nation, Living the Dream and Highly Contagious. DJ MJ will also provide music.
A silent auction, 50/50 raffle, local sweets sale and cash bar will also be available.
To start, all funds will go to research on autoimmune diseases conducted at the Maryland Center for Multiple Sclerosis at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Killen said. As her organization grows, she would like to send funds to autoimmune disease research centers across the country.
“I’m doing this because it’s a passion, not a job. I’ll reap the benefits if they find a cure,” she said. “I want to be able to give the money straight to them and cut out the middle man. Every single penny we make is all going to the University of Maryland.”
Killen’s father, Mark Fisher, has battled Rheumatoid Arthritis for several years. Both Multiple Sclerosis and Rheumatoid Arthritis are autoimmune diseases. Killen said she intends to focus on autoimmunity, not just Multiple Sclerosis.
According to the National Institute of Health, there are more than 80 autoimmune diseases, which include Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, Psoriasis and Type 1 Diabetes, and some cause similar symptoms. Several of these diseases share a common immune basis and information obtained from research in one autoimmune condition can be beneficial to others.
“Our motto is ‘Cure One To Cure All.’ If you can cure autoimmunity in one disease, then you can cure them all,” she said. “My goal is to get the word out about Operation Shooting Star and raise awareness that all these diseases are connected. I want to introduce Operation Shooting Star so I can move forward with it and, hopefully, go worldwide some day.”
For more information about the Nov. 6 event, visit www.facebook.com/operationshootingstar or e-mail cure@operationshootingstar. com. WHAT: Cure 2 Cure Extravaganza WHERE: Trader Lee’s, West OC, corner of routes 50 and 611 WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 6, beginning at noon COST: $10 donation FOR INFO: Visit www.facebook. com/operationshootingstar or e-mail cure@ operationshootingstar.com
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