This partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, June 13, 2001, was provided by the Federal Document Clearing House. Click here to order the complete transcript.
BRIT HUME, HOST: You see him on this show nearly every night. But what you do not see is Mort Kondracke's tireless effort to increase government funding for Parkinson's Disease research. Thirteen years ago, his wife, Milly, was diagnosed with Parkinson's, a debilitating disorder that affects movement, muscle control, and balance.
Milly has lost her independence. She can't even speak now and communicates through a computer.
In his new book Saving Milly, Mort chronicles how he and his family have coped since Parkinson's invaded their lives. Mort Kondracke joins me now. Welcome.
MORT KONDRACKE, AUTHOR, SAVING MILLY: Thank you. Thank you.
HUME: It is an astonishing book, a remarkable book.
KONDRACKE: Thanks. Thank you.
HUME: Very compelling read. The story tells me, but for the benefit of those who haven't had a chance to read it, tell me about your decision to step outside the normal role of a journalist on this issue of Parkinson's Disease research and to press for a particular government action.
KONDRACKE: Well, initially, I sort of stupidly thought that the funding of disease research was outside politics. And then somebody opened my eyes to the fact that it wasn't, that it was just like politics of every other kind, dog eat dog, and you fought for what you got.
And I discovered that Parkinson's research was deeply under-funded. It got, at the time that I started working on this, about $26 per victim per year.
HUME: Compared to...
KONDRACKE: Compared to AIDS, which was getting about $1,000 to $1,200 per year. Cancer was split in those days. The cancer average was $400 per victim per year. The breast cancer average was about $200. And prostate cancer was less than that.
HUME: So where is it now?
KONDRACKE: Well, now the funding has about doubled for Parkinson's, which is what has happened to NIH as a whole. Originally, I started just working writing columns, helping people who were lobbying, stuff like that, to try to boost it. And then I decided the best way to help Parkinson's was to try to double the whole NIH budget, and that Congress has been
And so the Parkinson's funding has about doubled. So now it's about $50. It is still deeply inadequate.
HUME: Tell me about the state of the research of the disease and also about what promise it may hold for Milly and what shape she's in.
KONDRACKE: Well, sort of ever since Milly's had the disease, the neurology community has been saying this is the most conquerable of all neurological diseases. And what we discover in the process of licking Parkinson's will help with Alzheimer's Disease and ALS and spinal cord injuries and lots of other similar neurological diseases.
They're still saying five to 10 years. And there's fascinating stuff going on, genetic research going on, something called neuro-regenerative factors that work in mice. There's surgical techniques. There's just an abundance of different research avenues, which NIH now says if we can get $1 billion more over a five-year period, we think we can do this thing. And the money still isn't there.
HUME: Now about Milly, all of us who know you know what a force she was as a person, what a force she has been in your life...
KONDRACKE: And is. And still is.
HUME: ... and remains, and remains. Talk to me about that experience with her, what you've gone through with that, and how it is with you now.
KONDRACKE: Well, the old Milly, as I describe her, was a force of nature that nobody could resist. I mean, she was a magnet. She couldn't be defeated in any possible way. She was a great psychotherapist. She was a wonderful mother and friend to loads of people.
There was a party for her the other day in which person after person came up and said everybody became a better person because of Milly. And they still do.
When she got hit with this diagnosis, she was shattered because she had been a social worker counseling families with Parkinson's and Alzheimer's and strokes and stuff like that. And she knew what a devastating disease this was. And she knew what her future might become. And so she was shattered by it.
And at first, she thought — half of men who have wives who have chronic illnesses say they're going to stick, and they don't. And I said I was going to stick. And I meant it. And they all mean it.
HUME: But you have.
KONDRACKE: But I did. I did.
And it's partly — you know, people say to me sometimes, "You're a saint." I'm not a saint. I don't have to be a saint with Milly, because she is so lovable that it's really easy. And God helps. I've become a much more religious person than I was before. And I've sort of developed this philosophy of what I call Christian stoicism of you play the hand you are dealt, but you ask God's help every single day 50 times a day.
And that plus love makes it work. And it really isn't as hard as it looks.
HUME: Just briefly, we only have a little bit of time left. You were very brutally honest about yourself in this book. What prompted that?
KONDRACKE: I just decided to tell everything the way it was and as unvarnished as it could be. And The Economist of London gave me a bad review because they didn't want to hear what Parkinson's could do, and it's all there. Everything is there.
HUME: It's an extraordinary book. It's called Saving Milly. You will find out things about Mort you never knew, and things about the disease you never knew, and perhaps some things about yourself you never knew.
Thank you, Mort. We have to take a break for the other headlines.
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