Ryan Lochte, I didn’t get a chance to meet. I did, however, get a picture taken with Michael J. Fox, who was very cordial but focused most of his attention—and rightly so—on a little girl with muscular dystrophy. Now, actor Steve Buscemi is a character and a half. I was there with Leah Bartos, who’s Mrs. New York, and because I’m Mrs. World, and the two of us were wearing crowns and sashes, he took a look at us and, before a photo was snapped, said, “Wow, let me get in between these two ladies.”
Those are just a few of the highlights from the trip Leah and I took to the New York City offices of the financial trading firm Cantor Fitzgerald on September 11, 2012. We were there representing the Foundation Fighting Blindness on Charity Day, alongside “celebrity ambassadors” representing other non-profits.
Every year, Cantor honors the more than 600 employees it lost in the terrorist attacks by donating all commissions made from trades on September 11 to more than 100 charities—including, this year, the Foundation.
This past year, I was crowned Mrs. World, and before that Mrs. America. Although I’d participated in beauty pageants in my twenties, when I was single, I re-entered the competition as a wife and mother a few years ago with two goals in mind: 1) raise awareness about retinal diseases; and 2) help the Foundation raise funds for research that will treat and, one day, cure them.
I have a mild case of retinitis pigmentosa, or RP, which limits my vision. And my two children—Brandon, 13, and Savannah, 8—are also impacted by the disease. Even with corrective lenses, they have trouble seeing at night, and their peripheral vision is affected. Earning the titles of Mrs. America and Mrs. World helped me become a spokesperson for the Foundation, which is focused on improving the lives of my children and more than 10 million other Americans affected by retinal diseases.
Charity Day—a big success, raising more than $12 million between Cantor Fitzgerald and its affiliate, BGC Partners—was the first of a string of events I’ll attend for the Foundation this fall. In particular, I’m really excited about October, because it’s been set aside by the Foundation as Save Your Vision Month.
All 31 days will be dedicated to uniting and empowering the retinal disease community, largely through social-media activity. For details, you can visit this web page, to find out how to help us educate, engage and inspire people across the nation.
It’s only fitting that I began the fall season with Charity Day. It was a lot of fun, and the folks at Cantor treated all of us as if we were all A-list celebrities. But as I watched the traders working hard, and donating their earnings to charities, I couldn’t help but think of the Foundation itself. Cantor has taken what was a truly tragic day and turned it into an event that will benefit the less fortunate for decades to come. It reminded me just how resilient and powerful people can be.
The same can be said for the Foundation. In 40 years, it’s raised half a billion dollars for cutting-edge research which, right now, is being tested in clinical trials for treatments around the world. A lot more work has to be done, but a revolution to save and restore vision is truly underway. With my children always in my thoughts, I can’t think of a better cause to get behind.
Pictured, top of page: Mrs. World, April Lufriu, poses with Michael J. Fox at Cantor Fitzgerald on Charity Day. Fox was there representing the Michael J. Fox Foundation.