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From left: Lindsay Ellingson, Martha Hunt, Gary T. Brock, MD, and a staff member from Rep. Culberson's office.

AAOS Now

Published 9/1/2016
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Gary T. Brock, MD

SRS Angels Advocate for Increased NIH Funding

Research Capitol Hill Days featured scoliosis-stricken supermodels
Supermodels—especially those who walk down the runway wearing lingerie fashions from Victoria's Secret—aren't the typical lobbyists for orthopaedic research. But the 2016 Research Capitol Hill Days actually featured two of the Victoria's Secret Angels.

During Research Capitol Hill Days, the AAOS works with specialty societies to present actual patients to members of Congress to highlight the importance of orthopaedic research. This year, the Scoliosis Research Society (SRS) played a prominent role in making the case for increased funding.

The annual event is a special time for representatives, senators, and their staff to visit firsthand with the very constituents they represent. This year's event was especially timely, with the request to increase funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from $32 billion to $34.5 billion. The level of NIH funding is significant because much orthopaedic research funding is channeled through NIH grants.

SRS patients, supermodels
Each society is asked to bring a patient with a story to tell. As chair of Health Care Policy and Advocacy for the SRS, I thought we could create a little excitement in D.C.!

In reviewing the patient stories featured on the SRS website this year, I read about two young ladies, who both happened to be Victoria's Secret Angels and supermodels. They had submitted their stories about dealing with scoliosis as adolescents and beyond. I approached both women about representing SRS and advocating for patients with scoliosis. To my delight, both agreed to participate!

The AAOS lobbyist, Stephanie Hazlett, and SRS staff arranged for the itineraries to work out for these busy world travelers. Martha Hunt is a current Angel who was recently featured in Taylor Swift's song "Bad Blood." She and her husband, a professional photographer, came up with many of the ideas in the video.

Lindsay Ellingson is a "retired" Angel, who was very proud of carrying the heaviest wings at the Victoria's Secret Angel Runway Show each of her eight participating years despite her scoliosis surgery. Ms. Ellingson is currently promoting her new line of cosmetics featured in Sephora stores around the country.

Telling their stories
It was a busy day in Washington, D.C., with visits to the offices of Texas Representatives Bill Flores, John Culberson, Henry Cuellar, and John Carter. We also met with Rep. Carolyn Maloney from New York along with both pairs of senators from Texas and New York—John Cornyn, Ted Cruz, Charles Schumer, and Kirsten Gillibrand. A "Marsha and the Supermodels" fundraiser for Rep. Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee raised more than $15,000 that evening.

From left: Lindsay Ellingson, Martha Hunt, Gary T. Brock, MD, and a staff member from Rep. Culberson's office.
Ms. Ellingson was diagnosed with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis when she was in the 5th grade.
Courtesy of Lindsay Ellingson
Since her surgery, Ms. Hunt uses low-impact exercises to keep her core and back strong.
Courtesy of Martha Hunt

I'm 6' 1" and this was the first time I was ever with three women who were all taller than I! The ladies did a magnificent job telling their stories at each of the congressional offices and many photos were taken.

They articulated the difficulties facing young women who have a potentially debilitating and frightening condition that required life-altering surgery. Although they were grateful for the work of their surgeons, both Angels were strong advocates for future research that might identify earlier, more successful nonsurgical interventions for scoliosis patients and improved techniques when surgery remains the most compelling option.

Although both Angels had traveled to many of the world's most beautiful and exotic destinations, they were profoundly touched by the Capitol Hill experience. "This was a team effort unlike any other I've ever been a part of," said Ms. Ellingson.

"I was so inspired by the patient advocates, doctors, and researchers that I met," she continued. "Research Capitol Hill Day was the most important event I've ever been a part of. It was an honor to share my story with the many congressmen, congresswomen, senators, and their staff. They were mostly supportive of our asks and genuinely interested in our stories. I really felt like we made a difference. We were a great team!"

"I have always found Capitol Hill to be fascinating," added Ms. Hunt. "Since my everyday world is consumed with fashion and photo shoots, it never dawned on me that I could be a part of the conversations happening in Congress! Now, I can encourage anyone to be proactive by advocating for any issue that they feel passionate about at Capitol Hill. It was such a rewarding feeling to be involved with the AAOS and the SRS at Research Capitol Hill Day. I hope to return every year that SRS will have me back!"

The bottom line
Advocacy matters. Congress needs input from real patients, doctors, and researchers. The AAOS and the SRS extend heartfelt thanks to all of the participants in the 2016 Research Capitol Hill Days, particularly to the patients who took time from their own busy schedules to advocate for the care of others with similar conditions. Angels? Yes, they are.

Gary T. Brock, MD, chairs the SRS Health Care Policy and Advocacy committee.

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