2016-10-26 / Local News

Living with Mitochondrial Disease, she is raising funds for a cure


FAMILY: Parents Sherri and Alan, brother Brandon, 26

SYNAGOGUE: Cong. Beth El




FAVORITE BOOK: “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio

Diagnosed with a mitochondrial disorder that affects her balance, vision, speech and ability to walk, Sydney Breslow doesn’t let her challenges get in the way of her goals.

At 24, the proudly independent Cherry Hill resident is finishing up her graduate studies in special education at High Point University in High Point, NC, where she consistently makes the high honor role. To compensate for poor eyesight, she uses adaptive technology to simultaneously read and listen to textbooks. Walking is slow and laborious, but most of her classes and places she needs to go are close-by or a shuttle ride away. Importantly, she’s not shy about speaking up for herself when a roadblock comes up.

“Something that takes most people one hour to do takes Sydney at least two hours,” explained her mother Sherri. “She’s never going to tell anybody how hard it is every single day, and honestly I don’t think she even realizes it.”

In fact, the thought of feeling sorry for herself does not occur to Breslow. Besides schoolwork, her focus is on the first-ever gala event she and her family has planned for Nov. 17 to benefit the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation. Billed as “Cousins for a Cure 2016,” it honors the memory of her beloved cousin Logan Aronson, a Raleigh resident who was 23 when he died in a 2013 car accident.

“He was so sweet, caring, fun and a great all-round person,” recalled Breslow, noting that she thinks about her cousin every day and how his smile would light up any room.

No, she doesn’t feel sorry for herself. But she is very focused on doing all she can to support research to cure mitochondrial disease and to help young people overcome challenges in their lives. It is why she hopes to work with kids with severe disabilities upon graduating. Her time student teaching only reinforced the plan, even as she came face to face with the brutal honesty of young children.

“The kids were blunt,” Breslow said. “One girl asked why I was born this way. It really shocked me. I told her that everybody has their own kinds of disabilities and these struggles are mine.”

The disease results from the failures of mitochondria, specialized compartments present in almost every cell of the body that produce more than 90 percent of the body’s energy. When these tiny parts of the body aren’t working properly, the body is deprived of needed energy, resulting in a wide range of debilitating and sometimes fatal symptoms. Each year 1,000-4,000 children in the United States are born with a mitochondrial disease.

Just in Sydney’s lifetime, understanding of the disease has increased immensely. Sydney did not get the diagnosis until she was eight years old even though her problems started to manifest by the time she was a toddler. Under the treatment of one of the foremost experts on mitochondrial disease at Kennedy Krieger Institute at John's Hopkins University, her treatment includes large doses of antioxidants.

Since childhood, Breslow said, her parents pushed her to do what other kids did. She attended elementary school at Kellman Brown Academy for five years before switching to Cherry Hill public schools through middle school. For high school, she attended the Delaware Valley Friends School, which specializes in using adaptive technology to help students with learning issues.

Going away for college wasn’t an easy choice, but a tour of High Point sold her. The small liberal arts college, completely modern and flat, made it easier to get around. Still, the transition was tough, particularly learning how to advocate for herself in the absence of her parents.

“Most of my professors were amazing,” she said. “They were so nice about it and did whatever they could do for me.”

With family in North Carolina, Breslow plans to remain in the area, where she hopes to find a teaching job. Having managed to make the transition to independence, her advice for others is that there is always a way to accomplish goals.

“You just have to find the situations that work for you,” she added.

“Cousins for a Cure 2016” takes place 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 17 at The Mansion in Voorhees. It features political commentator Michael Smerconish speaking on “Election 2016—What Just Happened?”

Tickets are $150.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.umdf.org/cousinsforacure16 

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