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By Matthew Santamaria (msantamaria@hdsa.org)

Passion and Dedication. Two words that describe 16 year old Ritika Jeloka from Melbourne, Florida. She is currently a junior at Melbourne High School. Ritika first learned about Huntington’s disease at the University of Central Florida, where she helps the laboratory with research efforts. Her family has no history of the disease but she wants to help others anyway she can. Ritika took the time from her busy school schedule to talk to HDSA.

Q: How do you want to assist the HD community?

Ritika: The support I want to provide is not only for HD patients, but their families and loved ones who are going through hard times emotionally. I understand that there is limited awareness about the disease and along with awareness, support and funding. I hope I can do my small part to help provide for these families and hopefully put a small smile on their faces. This will definitely come through lab research, but in that long process, I will try to help families that need it now.

Q: Do you attend HD events?

Ritika: I have been researching Huntington’s disease for a couple years now and have been to many HD walks and events. In these events, I've met many optimistic HD patients and have had the opportunity to even call some my friends. I always think to myself, that if these people can be optimistic, then I should be doing all I can and not give up helping those in need.

Q: What have you seen first-hand at the events?

Ritika: The optimistic patient along with the anxious families. The fact that pre-symptomatic HD patients that know that they are waiting for the inevitable can still smile and have hope, pushes me to do better. I know that it is in my power to make a difference, no matter how small that difference is.

Q: What should people know that are on the outside of the HD community?

Ritika: Any small act always helps. Many people believe that their small actions will not make the slightest ripple in the vast suffering around the world. However, every small action will influence someone else to do their part and eventually will become a community affair. Just spending a couple hours of your life or donating a small amount can make a huge difference in someone’s life, who is struggling along with their families to see another day. Please join us to help support our HD community members.

Ritika has helped organize HDSA’s Southeast Region upcoming event called Strides for Huntington’s. The event will take place on Saturday April 6th from 9:30 AM – 12:30 PM at Wickham Park in Melbourne, Florida. It is a fundraising event that will consists of a 3K Walk/Run. The event will also include chance drawings, food/refreshments, and fun prizes.

For more information about the event, click here.

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Huntington’s disease is a fatal genetic disorder that causes the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain. It deteriorates a person’s physical and mental abilities during their prime working years and has no cure. Each child of a parent with HD has a 50/50 chance of inheriting the faulty gene that causes Huntington’s disease. Today, there are approximately 30,000 symptomatic Americans and more than 200,000 at-risk of inheriting the disease. The symptoms of Huntington’s disease are described as having ALS, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s – simultaneously.

The Huntington’s Disease Society of America is the premier nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of everyone affected by HD. From community services and education to advocacy and research, HDSA is the world’s leader in providing help for today and hope for tomorrow for people with HD and their families.

​To learn more about Huntington’s disease and the work of the Huntington’s Disease Society of America, visit www.HDSA.org or call 1(800)345-HDSA.

This is a story featuring a personal experience with Huntington’s disease. If you would like to have your story told please contact Matthew Santamaria at msantamaria@hdsa.org.