Actress Melissa Joan Hart to Keynote National Autoimmune Diseases Summit on March 3rd

Newswise — Actress Melissa Joan Hart, internationally known for her roles on “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” and her upcoming new sitcom, “Melissa & Joey” to premier this summer on ABC Family, will give the keynote speech at the Autoimmune Diseases Summit: The Global State of Autoimmunity Today on March 3, 2010, in Washington D.C., at the Liaison Hotel.

The one-day summit hosted by the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA) in collaboration with the National Coalition of Autoimmune Patient Groups (NCAPG) will launch March 2010 as National Autoimmune Diseases Awareness Month.

The summit will bring together researchers, patients, policy makers, and the media to bring a national focus to autoimmune diseases and to the 50 million Americans who currently live with an autoimmune disease. The program will feature a series of panel discussions and updates on public policy, media responsibility and public health issues, rise in autoimmune disease incidence, and future innovations in tracking, diagnosing, treating and curing autoimmune diseases.

Melissa’s autoimmune disease story involves her relationship with AARDA’s national spokesperson actress Kellie Martin (E.R.) “Just six years ago,” said Hart, “I had no clue what lupus was. I had just celebrated my wedding and was in the process of making new friends. I became fast friends with my dear friend Kellie Martin and learned that she had lost her only sister to this autoimmune disease. This news absolutely devastated me. All through my life I have thanked God for keeping my family safe and healthy, unable to imagine my life if I was ever to lose one of them. I wanted her to know that I was not only willing to be there for her as a friend, but that I would try to help in any way possible.”

Hart has done just that, as she has long been an advocate for Lupus LA, the West Coast division of the S.L.E. Lupus Foundation, and has been recognized for her work in raising awareness for lupus. However, this is her first time representing AARDA and working to bring a greater awareness for autoimmune diseases as a whole, a category that includes more than 80 diseases, such as, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis (MS), Crohn’s disease, myositis, celiac disease, and vasculitis.

“We are honored to have Melissa Joan Hart participate in this first-of-its kind event, an event that will help spotlight national attention on autoimmune diseases,” said Virginia T. Ladd, President and Executive Director of AARDA. “Melissa’s story helps to highlight a major problem surrounding autoimmune diseases -- that awareness is fundamentally lacking.”

Ladd added that “in one AARDA study, fewer than 13 percent of Americans polled could actually name an autoimmune disease. With so few people being aware of autoimmune diseases, millions of Americans could be at risk and completely unaware of the danger.”

Tickets are still available to attend the Autoimmune Diseases Summit and hear Melissa’s keynote presentation. To attend the open sessions are FREE, with an additional $25 fee to attend Melissa’s keynote, luncheon and reception. To learn more or to register, visit AARDA’s homepage: The program is also being web cast nationwide.

About the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA)

AARDA is the only national nonprofit health agency dedicated to bringing a national focus to autoimmunity, the major cause of serious chronic diseases. Approximately 50 million Americans, 20 percent of the population or one in five people, suffer from autoimmune diseases. Women are more likely than men to be affected; some estimates say that 75 percent of those affected are women. Still, with these statistics, autoimmunity is rarely discussed as a women's health issue.

The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association is dedicated to the eradication of autoimmune diseases and the alleviation of suffering and the socioeconomic impact of autoimmunity through fostering and facilitating collaboration in the areas of education, public awareness, research, and patient services in an effective, ethical and efficient manner.

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