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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Generation Hope After Dark 2012

By Brittany Riggins

Advisory Board Members
In 2006, I attended my first PHA International Conference in Minneapolis, MN.  I had only been diagnosed for about 9 months at that time.  While I had been attending my local support group meetings, I had yet to meet another patient even close to my age.  So at conference, I sought out the few other patients from across the country that were also in their 20's and affected by PH.   We bonded, spent a lot of the conference together and promised to keep in touch.  The thing that I couldn’t understand was that I had been continually told that pulmonary hypertension primarily affects women in their 20's and 30's.  So where were all the patients my age? Why weren’t they at the conference or the support group meetings?  Why wasn’t there some way we could all come together and help each other deal with this disease that was thrown at us at such a pivotal time in our lives?  Fortunately I wasn’t the only one seeing this gap in the PHA programming.  With the help of the wonderful staff at PHA, three other young adult patients and I were asked to be on the advocacy board for what would become Generation Hope in 2009.  And it was like we suddenly weren’t alone anymore.

Due to an unfortunate combination of pay cuts, long plane rides and general bad timing, I was unable to attend the previous International Conference in California.  It was the first conference that held sessions and programming just for the young adult group.  It broke my heart to be missing it, but after seeing all the photos from the Generation Hope After Dark mixer, I was so proud to have even had a small part in encouraging so many young people to come together at conference.  It was announced that the next conference would be in Orlando -- a much more reasonable trip from my home in Atlanta --, so all that was left was to wait two years.

As conference started up, I connected the names and photos I had seen so many times on the Generation Hope list serve and Facebook with the actual people.  I had done this in the past with friends from the PHA message boards, but it was so much more exciting this year.  We had a party to look forward to!  Generation Hope members were given metallic purple slap bracelets -- if you're in your 20's or 30's you remember what those are -- in their registration packets as their pass in, but by the end of Friday night you could see them shooting across the bar.  There was a chocolate fondue fountain, a selection of tiny delicious desserts, and even a specialty cocktail created just for the event.  The Generation Hope After Dark mixer was such a raving success that I never bothered to count how many patients attended, I barely took photos, and I didn’t get to bed until 2:00 am the next morning.  Seeing so many young patients from across the world in one place bonding and sharing stories was something I never thought I’d get to see.  There was easily 50 of us; all with the same concerns and hopes about life, love and fighting PH.  We had a presence and now a voice.  

The most surprising part of the After Dark event was our unexpected party crashers.  They came in the form of a high school aged mob.  A mob sounds like they had torches and pitchforks, but you know what I mean.  They were eager to try out the chocolate fondue fountain, or so I thought.  A lot of these kids have been battling PH a lot longer than some of us and will soon be joining us in Generation Hope.  While we were hesitant to let them in  -- do their parents know they’re going to be around a bunch of rowdy, drinking, 20 and 30 something --, in reality they are our future.  As much as we want to, none of us are going to be allowed to stay in Generation Hope forever.  Eventually, we will have to pass the torch onto this next group, who I feel like were elementary school age just a blink of the eye ago.  I look forward to the new energy and ideas they will bring with them.  

LtoR Chanda Causer, Brittany Riggins, Dalia Golchan,
Colleen Brunetti, Carl Hicks, and Jack Nino
I left this conference feeling more than inspired.  I left with a fire inside of me.  There are so many ideas running through my head of how we can make Generation Hope After Dark even better in 2014 -- it’s in Indianapolis if you haven’t heard --, how we as Generation Hopers can spend more time together at conference, and how I can see all these new friends without waiting until 2014.  Also on my mind is how we as Generation Hope can make a difference in the fight against pulmonary hypertension beyond the support we give one another.

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