Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Six cool L.A. ladies ‘bare the truth’ about Huntington’s disease, highlighting an exceptionally creative year for advocacy

From a pie-in-the-face challenge to documentaries to a plan to light up Chicago in blue, Huntington’s disease activists rose to new creativity in 2014 in their quest to raise awareness.

One of the most ingenious initiatives, #BareYourTruth, materialized as a photograph of six naked women advocates from the Los Angeles area, their bodies partially shielded by placards with the letters C-U-R-E-H-D.

Tastefully sexy but haunting, #BareYourTruth captures an essential issue for the HD community: ill and at-risk individuals like me and our families have struggled to exit the terrible and lonely HD closet, tell the world of our plight, and focus society’s energies on improved care and the search for remedies for this untreatable neurological disorder.

From left to right, Rachel Giacopuzzi-Brown, Angelica Randall, DeAnna DeNaro, Adriana Venegas, Taryn Renau, and Amy Morris O’Keefe (photo by #BareYourTruth)

The goal of #BareYourTruth is to “share the truth about HD,” explained DeAnna DeNaro, 49, a participant in the project. She lost her half-sister Denise DeNaro to HD on February 26.

“There isn’t anything fun about Huntington’s – it’s raw and it’s bare,” said Deanna in a phone interview on December 21. “When you’re naked, it’s a rawness, and you’re showing everything. If you can do that – to talk about something so raw and painful – ‘bare’ means you’re showing everything. We didn’t want to say ‘bare your soul.’ We wanted to do ‘bare your truth.’ Each one of has a truth about Huntington’s. When you talk about the truth, being naked is showing everything.”

Denise was 59 and had two children, now young adults. In 2001 DeAnna’s half-brother Donald DeNaro died at 52. He was believed to have HD. He had three children, today also young adults. DeAnna, Denise, and Donald shared the same father, but Denise and Donald had a different mother, who had HD. Of DeAnna’s five nieces and nephews, only one has tested for the disease. The result was negative. The other four remain untested and at risk.

Cross-country trips to offer care

For more than a decade, DeAnna traveled an average of five times per year from her home in Redondo Beach, CA, to Miami to help care for Denise. During that time, she has served on the board of the resurgent Los Angeles chapter of the Huntington’s Disease Society of America (HDSA), the last three years as president.

“I would go there a month at a time,” DeAnna said. “Each stage that she would enter into, we as a family had to collaborate to evaluate her care and what was the best for her, including her doctors and caregivers.”

As a result of her experience with HD, three years ago Deanna left her career as a manager in the construction business and opened a caregiving business. She will continue in that field when she moves next year to Germany, her husband’s homeland.

DeAnna DeNaro (photo by #BareYourTruth)

The birth of #BareYourTruth

Denise’s death spurred DeAnna to create #BareYourTruth and to recruit other women advocates. 

“I am not at risk for HD,” Deanna said. “It does affect me personally. Those are my siblings, regardless of the fact that we are half-siblings. We were very close.”

The photo shoot (with services donated anonymously by a professional photographer) took place in September. On September 28, a copy of the photograph was auctioned for $200 at the HDSA-LA Team Hope Walk, which netted $76,000 for the organization.

DeAnna witnessed HD for the first time in 1990 when she was 24 and visited Denise and Donald’s mother and an HD-affected cousin in a nursing home.

“It was the most horrific thing I have ever seen,” DeAnna said. “I was in shock. I learned very quickly that I wouldn’t be able to help my sister. It was obvious. I would be watching my sister suffer and die from this disease, which she did. Taking care of my sister was extremely challenging. I feel compelled to do this, now that my sister is gone.”

Reactions to nudity

DeAnna at first worried whether the photograph was an appropriate form of advocacy.

“I wasn’t sure of how that was going to be perceived,” she confided. However, she quickly adopted a “don’t care” approach because of the urgency of the HD cause.

“We kind of threw this picture around to a lot of people to see what they would say,” DeAnna said. “Not one man said anything sexual about the photograph. And I think they were being honest.”

So far, Deanna has gotten only positive feedback: “If you look at the faces, it’s so gratifying to see the combination of the pain of HD and our determination to do something about it. I think people are seeing that. They are reacting to what they see in the photograph, not that we’re naked. Talking about Huntington’s disease can be very difficult for many people. That’s how #BareYourTruth came out.”

DeAnna’s and fellow advocate #BareYourTruth advocate Rachel Giacopuzzi-Brown’s husbands at first balked at the idea but, after seeing the photo, “totally loved” it, DeAnna said.

A terrifying reality

In early October the women set up a #BareYourTruth Facebook page, where each has explained her connection to HD. Each has added a phrase to the hashtag #BareYourTruth that reflects each's personal story and its broader meaning for the HD community.

“I think there is still the part of me that is terrified to know the truth for fear that I wouldn't be strong enough to handle it,” Adriana Venegas wrote about her decision to test for the HD gene. “#BareYourTruth, even if it terrifies you.”

On November 3, Adriana received her result: she tested positive for the gene. In an e-mail, she told me that she is still mentally processing the result.

You are my sister in HD,” I wrote her. “I am gene-positive, too. I am here for whatever you need.”

Adriana Venegas (photo by #BareYourTruth)

Seeking media attention

“I am now in my early 40s, with two young children and I am at risk for HuntingtonĘžs disease,” wrote Amy Morris O’Keefe. #BareYourTruth for those at risk.”

“Every day I watch my former Marine husband struggle with memory issues, myoclonic seizures, emotional instability, cognitive function, etc.,” wrote Rachel, who used the phrase “BareYourTruth for your children.” “As these symptoms became harder to hide, we struggled with how to break the news to our three children. In the end we decided that because of the behaviors he was exhibiting it was better to tell them the truth than to have them think that Daddy didn't love them. Ever since that day they have been amazing with him.”

Other women have shared their stories and photos. DeAnna and her collaborators have stimulated further discussion with a series of “truths,” or brief commentaries, about HD. So far, they have published nearly 60, posting several times a week.

Deanna calculated that through the page her story has reached more than 14,000 people.

#BareYourTruth hopes to attract more media attention. The group is producing a two-minute public service announcement that will include a message from HDSA CEO Louise Vetter, DeAnna said. They plan to post the video on Videolicious.com, with the hope that it will go viral.

Catchy initiatives

“Six very cool L.A. ladies,” I texted a friend about the #BareYourTruth initiative.

#BareYourTruth echoes past HD awareness-building efforts such as the “faceless faces of HD” project created by James Valvano, one of the seeds in the creation of the advocacy organization Help for HD International.

In 2014, other thought-provoking and catchy initiatives emerged.

At mid-year, HD-affected writer and blogger Sarah Foster Parker produced an interesting twist on the famous ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – which raised $115 million in a matter of weeks – with the creation of the HD Pie in the Face Challenge. This effort increased HD awareness on Twitter and other social media as well as donations to the HD cause.

HDSA’s Illinois Chapter has started a petition drive to have several of Chicago’s major buildings lit up in blue, the organization’s official color, during HD Awareness Month in May 2015 (click here to read more).

Many other ideas abounded in 2014, too numerous to detail here.

Informing the police about HD

Josh Bane, the nephew of Jeffrey Bane, a West Virginia HD-afflicted man roughly handled by the police as he begged for help, started a Justice for Jeffrey Bane page on Facebook.

Disturbed by the online video of Jeffrey Bane’s mistreatment and the ongoing mishandling of HD patients by police officers, a group of HD advocates set up an information booth at the 121st Annual International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference in Orlando, FL, October 26-28.

Some 250 individuals, most with no prior knowledge of HD, obtained information at the booth. (Click here to read more).

Josh Bane (personal photo)

A dance, a twitch, and a lion’s mouth

The year brought the release of three documentary films about HD. In January, HD patient and activist Chris Furbee’s 85-minute Huntington’s Dance premiered at the Slamdance Festival in Park City, UT, winning a jury special mention for “most compelling personal journey.”

Stanford University student and HD advocate Kristen Powers launched her short film Twitch, which chronicles her journey to testing for HD. Kristen is currently holding private screenings of the film for the HD community. (I will review the film.)

Director Lucy Walker recently released her short documentary, The Lion’s Mouth Opens, about filmmaker Marianna Palka’s decision to test for HD. The film, which will appear on HBO in spring 2015, has been short-listed for an Academy Award in the short-subject documentary category (click here to read more).

Kristen Powers discussing Twitch in San Diego on October 9 (photo by Gene Veritas)

Scientific progress, but urgency for a cure

Scientists made immense progress on the search for treatments, including the announcement by Isis Pharmaceuticals, Inc., that it will commence a gene-silencing clinical trial in the first half of 2015.

The CHDI Foundation, Inc.,the non-profit virtual biotech focused solely on the development of HD treatments, is preparing to sponsor the landmark Tenth Annual HD Therapeutics Conference in Palm Springs, CA, in February.

Noting the legal existence of assisted suicide in some jurisdictions and also the use of non-approved, still experimental drugs in the race to stave off a worldwide Ebola epidemic, HD advocate Andy Meinen wondered why HD patients could not receive potential drugs still undergoing testing.

“Allow the dying to determine which risks they will choose for themselves,” Andy wrote on his Facebook site. “Ebola is hell, so is HD, give us our treatments now.”

He added in a Facebook message to me: “Once adequately informed of the risks inherent to experimental treatments, patients should have access to those drugs without interference from regulators.”

That’s a controversial idea. (I will explore the context and implications of Andy’s ideas in a future article.) Nevertheless, Andy made a valuable observation about how clinical protocols might need adjustment as both the challenges of disease and the potential of science evolve.

In 2015, the HD community will once again need creative, sharp-thinking advocates to drive home the demand for better care and a cure.

As I enter my eleventh year as an HD blogger, I'll do my best to report on new initiatives.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Sharon’s inspirational journey with CrossFit in the fight against Huntington’s disease

With her indomitable spirit Sharon Shaffer has not given up the fight against Huntington’s disease, despite a decade of struggling with symptoms that forced her to quit her job and stop driving, and which hamper her ability to speak.

On December 7, Sharon starred in her own HD educational fundraiser, “Sharing Sharons CrossFit Journey” (#CureHuntingtons and #SharingSharonsJourney). The event raised nearly $2,000 to support Sharon and her family’s plans to hold a much larger fundraiser for the Huntington’s Disease Society of America (HDSA).

More importantly, it gave several dozen participants and onlookers in the CrossFit gym insight into Sharon’s practice of regular, intense exercise as a strategy for slowing the inevitable progression of her untreatable condition.

“I believe that CrossFit has helped me bounce back from major falls and accidents that I have had,” Sharon, assisted by daughter Alexa, said in a speech before CrossFit trainers led her and participants through a regimen of exercises. “Although my balance, swallowing, and speech are worsening, I am confident that without exercise my symptoms would be worse.”

You can watch Sharon tell of her struggles with HD and her involvement with CrossFit in the video below, with an introduction by Lee Razalan, the owner of Stay Classy CrossFit, the gym that sponsored the event.

A rigorous workout

The trainers at Stay Classy CrossFit, a central San Diego outlet that is part of a national network of gyms, designed a program for the Shaffers’ event. It was geared specifically for HD-affected individuals.

Along with the other participants, I jumped on a box, lifted weights, swung on a pull-up bar, and did pushups and squats.

We rotated among the five exercise stations every 90 seconds, moving through the entire sequence three times over about 17 minutes.

The #CureHuntingtons WOD (workout of the day) (photo by Taylor Shaffer)

I found the workout very rigorous. Indeed, I had to stop several times to catch my breath.

Over the next couple of days, my muscles felt considerably sore. But it was a good soreness, the kind you get from using neglected muscles. Today one of my doctors gave me the go-ahead to stick with CrossFit, but only as long as I don’t overdo it.

It occurred to me that HD people and presymptomatic gene carriers such as I need more events such as this to help us refocus on exercise and holistic approaches to the disease.

For Sharon, CrossFit has not just served to stimulate her brain and strengthen her muscles, but also linked her to a whole new network of friends who literally support her as she sometimes stumbles through the exercises.

In addition to Stay Classy Crossfit, the event received support from Lululemon and Sushi on a Roll.

You can watch the CrossFit participants, including me, in the videos below.

Racing Across America again

The Shaffers put on “Sharing Sharons CrossFit Journey” in preparation for their fourth participation in the Race Across America (RAAM), a coast-to-coast, non-stop bicycle race from the pier in Oceanside, CA, to the boardwalk in Annapolis, MD. The Shaffers’ participation in the June 2015 event requires donations in kind and funds to cover such costs as a motor home to accompany the riders.

The Shaffers’ “Team 2 Cure Huntington’s Disease” participated in RAAM in 2006, 2007, and 2010, anchored by Renato. He also led a team in the Race Across the West in 2008.

These and affiliated events such as annual RAAM golf tournaments have raised more than $110,000 for HDSA. “Team 2 Cure HD” has also increased awareness about HD across the nation.

In addition to Renato, the 2015 team includes RAAM veterans John Sylvester and Jason Tate and newcomer Mikel Clementi. Their 2015 goal is to net $40,000 or more.

Renato Shaffer (photo by Gene Veritas)


Renato and his three team members have completed past RAAM events in less than ten days. To call RAAM grueling is a gross understatement, especially since Renato turns 50 today, December 9.

In their RAAM donation request letter, the Shaffers describe the race as “both physically and emotionally taxing” but that pales before “the realities that HD patients suffer from on a daily basis. Over the past ten years our family has changed drastically with the progression of Sharon’s symptoms. Nonetheless we live with purpose, hope and gratitude. Our purpose is to shed light on HD, to maintain realistic hope despite Sharon’s circumstances and always remain grateful for the selflessness of others who have helped us.”

Renato, the RAAM team members and support staff, the extended Shaffer family, and supporters and friends of the HD cause draw deep inspiration from Sharon.

My goal […] is to try to succeed at things that people would deem impossible given my condition,” said the 48-year-old Sharon, who has practiced CrossFit for five years. She believes that all HD-affected individuals can discover an activity or hobby for keeping active.

“Huntington’s does not define us,” she said. “It’s just another fork in the road.”

At the conclusion of the CrossFit program, we participants all gathered around Sharon and one of the trainers as he reflected on the purpose and the lessons gained.

I touched Sharon’s shoulder. She and her thoughtful event for HD families had motivated me to recommit to exercise and healthy living as I face my own inevitable onset. Once again, I acquired strength from my HD sister.

We all put our arms in the middle of the circle. Then we raised them as we cheered: “Cure Huntington’s!

(Stay tuned to this blog for updates on RAAM 2015 and how you can help. Scroll down for other photos from Sharon's event. Photos by Gene Veritas.)

Race Across America veteran and 2015 repeat participant John Sylvester

2015 Race Across America initiate Mikel Clementi

Alexa (left) and Taylor Shaffer

Sharon Shaffer and mother Fran Walker

Andrew Herndon, coordinator of the HDSA Center of Excellence for Family Services and Research at the University of California, San Diego

HD advocate and support group member Amy Anderson (left) and HD support group facilitator Sandy Jerkins

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Another major supplement, creatine, proven ineffective in the fight against Huntington’s disease

For the second time in less than three months, a widely taken and long-studied dietary supplement envisioned as a potential treatment for Huntingtons disease has been proven ineffective, bringing a halt to a clinical trial.

Creatine, a supplement popular among body builders and readily available in health food stores, was studied in a clinical trial called CREST-E (Creatine Safety, Tolerability, and Efficacy in Huntingtons Disease), which began in 2009 and was to be completed in 2016.

On October 29, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), announced that it was discontinuing CREST-E because a preliminary analysis of the data “showed with high confidence that it was unlikely that the study would be able to show that creatine was effective in slowing loss of function in early symptomatic Huntingtons Disease.”

The study was carried out by the Huntington Study Group (HSG) and led by Dr. Steven Hersch of Massachusetts General Hospital and Dr. Giovanni Schifitto of the University of Rochester School of Medicine.

“The entire point of the CREST-E study was to determine whether creatine slows the course of HD or not, and the answer is, no, it does not,” Martha Nance, M.D., a member of the HSG executive committee, said in an e-mail. “Although this result is disappointing, it is still important, as it gives us a definite answer to the question: ‘I have HD. Should I take creatine?’ The answer is, ‘no.’”

“I recommend that all stop taking creatine,” Dr. LaVonne Goodman, the founder of Huntington’s Disease Drug Works (HDDW), said in an e-mail.

False hopes

Huntington’s disease typically reduces people’s energy levels. Scientists thought that creatine, which cells use to store energy, might help compensate for the energy deficit in brain cells and enable them to survive.

Positive results in animal studies regarding the impact of creatine, the rise of HDDW’s “treatment now” program ten years ago, and the advent of both CREST-E and a companion study in presymptomatic individuals known as PRECREST led to much discussion about the supplement in the HD community.

Many people have taken or considered taking creatine in the hopes of avoiding or ameliorating symptoms.

I have taken creatine for about ten years, beginning with my participation in the HDDW program.

Just after receiving the news about CREST-E yesterday, I received an e-mail from an individual inquiring about where to purchase creatine and what amount to take. I responded that “it is now recommended that nobody take creatine.”

HDBuzz.net also reported on the end of CREST-E, calling the new evidence against creatine “compelling.

Awaiting HD-specific remedies

In mid-August, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the HSG stopped a clinical trial for coenzyme Q10, another widely taken supplement.

I outlined my approach to HD supplements and the pros and cons of the matter in a February article titled “To take, or not to take, unproven supplements in the fight against Huntingtons disease.” That article also reported on the hopes for PRECREST and CREST-E.

With the elimination of both coenzyme Q10 and creatine in rapid succession, the HD community is suddenly left without two potential treatments that supplied significant  hope.

However, supplements lack what researchers refer to as HD-specific approaches to treatments. They were not designed or marketed with HD in mind, whereas the new treatments currently under study will potentially attack the specific causes of Huntingtons.

Hope for effective treatments is on the rise as researchers and pharmaceutical firms gear up for new clinical trials such as the Isis Pharmaceuticals, Inc., gene-silencing approach announced for the first half of 2015.

“The important thing right now is to learn from ‘negative’ outcomes like this,” the HDBuzz article observed. “Studies like CREST-E have helped us, as a community, to get really good at designing, enrolling and running clinical trials, and understanding why particular treatments don’t work. Now we have the result of CREST-E, all that energy, enthusiasm and experience can be directed into testing other experimental treatments with a higher chance of success. One very solid benefit is that hundreds of volunteers are now freed up to sign up for other clinical trials enrolling now or in the near future.”

For the latest news on HD research and clinical trials, watch the video below for the update by Jody Corey-Bloom, M.D., Ph.D. (Note that the talk took place on October 27, before the announcement about creatine.)

The dire need for neurological treatments

I am now rethinking my approach to supplements. I have stopped taking coenzyme Q10.

I agree with the doctorsrecommendations to halt creatine. My breakfasts and dinners will no longer include a heaping teaspoon of fruit-flavored creatine dissolved in a glass of water.

Container with over-the-counter creatine (photo by Gene Veritas)

I will discard my remaining supply of creatine but keep the container as a piece of historical evidence in the quest for HD treatments.

It will also serve as a reminder of the dire need for truly effective approaches against a devastating disease that has reminded the world how the discovery of the first effective drug for any neurological disorder has continued to elude science.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Outrage over video of police’s rough handling of man with Huntington’s disease spurs calls for justice, awareness

Amateur video has proven crucial to holding police officers accountable around the country.

Now such video of a police encounter with a man suffering from Huntington’s disease – held down for nearly ten minutes as he struggled to breathe and pleaded for help – shockingly reveals  how rare disease communities must fight against profound ignorance, discrimination, and hostile treatment.

In the small town of Westover, WV, police on September 6 arrested Jeffrey Bane, a 39-year-old father of two from nearby Morgantown, WV, and charged him with disorderly conduct, obstructing an officer, and battery on an officer. At least one officer and a cruiser from the neighboring Granville, WV, police department were also at the scene.

From their actions and attitude, the officers seemed to have no inkling that Bane was ill.

It’s a reminder that police should all be exposed to the Law Enforcement Training Guide produced by the Huntington’s Disease Society of America (HDSA), and that those afflicted by the disease would be wise to carry the “I Have Huntington’s Disease” cards recommended by HDSA.

Behind the incident

Bane has HD, which has left him unemployed. He comes from a family with a long history of Huntington’s and has suffered from the disorder for about five years, though he can still accomplish many daily activities. His symptoms include chorea, the involuntary, often jerky movements typical of the disorder.

Bane had been walking down the street with his toddler daughter in a stroller and carrying his infant son when, in response to two 911 calls alleging concern for the children, police accosted him.

According to a local newspaper that had access to the official police report, the police said that Bane “appeared to be under the influence of narcotics, handled the children roughly and became agitated as officers spoke with him about the children.” The police said the children seemed to be “overheated.”

Jeffrey Bane's police mug shot

When asked what “provisions” he carried for the children, “Bane struck the stroller violently with his hand, pushing it forward abruptly while his infant son was still seated inside,” the official complaint stated. When the officers attempted to restrain Bane, he began to fight. He allegedly kicked one officer and tried to spit on others.

Sara Bostonia, a Grafton, WV, resident and healthcare worker who was driving to her mother’s home in Westover, saw Bane on the ground and started filming the scene with her smartphone. She had not previously known Bane.

“The first thing I saw was blood,” Bostonia said in a phone interview on September 13. “That’s why I stopped. I saw a man with a bunch of other men on top of him. There were no [police] lights on. I just thought there was something wrong about the whole way he was moving.”

Bostonia said that she rolled down her window to get a clearer view.

“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” she said. She then started filming.

I’ve never done that, never,” she continued. “Once he started the gurgling and screaming for help, I could tell he was completely pinned to the ground. I said ‘stop it’ while I was getting out of my car.”

In the video, as the officers hold Bane to the ground, he displays frequent episodes of chorea.

“Stop it!” the officer holding Bane’s head to the ground shouts. Another says: “Stop fighting us.

I cant breathe, goddamit,” Bane says desperately. “Help me. I can’t breathe…. Help me, sir, please help me.”

As Bane appears to choke, one of the officers orders him to “stop spitting.

“Help me, please,” Bane pleads again. “I’m not trying to fight you guys.”

The officers misinterpret involuntary movements in Bane’s legs as attempts to kick them. They clearly had not been trained to assess the possibility that such actions resulted from HD (or any other condition).

“The scene portrayed on the video is tremendously upsetting and sad to anyone who recognizes the chorea and erratic gait that Huntington's disease causes, that could have been largely or solely responsible for the behavior that led the police to the scene,” Martha Nance, M.D., the director of the HDSA Center of Excellence at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, MN, and the author of the preface to the Law Enforcement Training Guide, wrote in an e-mail. “In the courts, we assume that people are innocent until proven guilty, but on the street, there may be an assumption of the worst until the situation defuses.”

During the incident, the children lost contact with their father. They do not appear in the video. Contacted by the police, Bane’s girlfriend Delsie Stup, the children’s mother, came to the scene to pick them up.

Without knowing Bane nor his HD status, Bostonia put the video on her YouTube channel on September 7. To date it has had nearly 120,000 views.

Bostonia said she posted the video because she wants all the facts “out there. Public scrutiny of the facts is paramount. It is our job. We shouldn’t have to police the police, is how I feel about that. As citizens, we do a pretty good job of policing ourselves.”

You can watch an enhanced version of the video on another YouTube channel below.

After receiving medical treatment and posting bail, Bane was released about 48 hours after his arrest.

“Unfortunately, situations like what happened to Mr. Bane happen far too often in America and around the globe,” HDSA CEO Louise Vetter said in a phone interview on September 12. “They are heartbreaking and tragic and they’re why we work so hard to educate the community at large about Huntington’s disease. That’s why it takes all of us sharing our outrage but also committing to educating about Huntington’s disease so that circumstances like this aren’t repeated.”

According to Dr. Nance, no statistics exist on arrests or incidents with the police involving HD-affected individuals. However, difficulties with the police and/or misunderstanding of symptoms – usually mistaken for drunkenness or drug usage – have occurred in many HD families. In 2007 I myself visited a San Diego HD man in jail improperly charged with public drunkenness. HD-affected individuals can appear drunk because of their chorea and also slurred speech.

Outrage in the community

The Bane incident has received newspaper, television, and blog coverage in the U.S. The London Daily Mail also ran an article.

The video has also stirred controversy in the greater Morgantown area of West Virginia, home to small towns dependent on the coal-mining and natural gas industries as well as intellectual life at West Virginia University (WVU), with nearly 30,000 students.

“The arrest video on YouTube of Granville man Jeffrey Bane has caused outrage and accusations of police brutality from those who feel Westover and Granville Police were unfair to a man suffering from Huntington's disease,” observed a report on WDTV, a Bridgeport, WV, TV station.

According to that report, the city of Westover views the incident as a “non-issue.”

"The outrage of anything even close to police brutality in the case of Jeff Bane is totally unwarranted,” Westover Mayor Dave Johnson said in a statement released to the station. “If I had any doubt whatsoever I would be the first to bring the officers involved to the carpet, so to speak.… The City of Westover has moved on."

According to Bostonia, the community was indeed “in an uproar” over the incident. In the wake of intense national discussion following this summer’s police shooting of Michael Brown and riots in Ferguson, MO, “people are trying to get a protest together,” she said. “A couple weeks ago they held a protest for Ferguson with about 20 people down at the courthouse. This one hits closer to home. I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens here, too.”

Sara Bostonia (personal photo)

At the same time, people are worried about the community’s security, she said.

“Everyone in town is invested in this incident in some way,” she explained. “Maybe their brother’s a cop and they’re afraid. Everyone is connected in some way to one another.

“I didn’t want to take that video. I wanted them to detain him properly.”

‘Justice for Jeffrey’

Bane and Stup have issued no public statements, but Bane’s nephew Josh Bane, 22, emerged as the family spokesperson, setting up a public Justice for Jeffrey Bane page on Facebook.

As the son of a father (Jeffrey’s brother) who has already developed HD symptoms, Josh has a 50-50 chance of inheriting HD.

Josh Bane (personal photo)

Josh alleges that the police violated his uncle’s rights. In the search for truth about the incident, he has sought to obtain and release all related information. The extended Bane family is also considering the possibility of legal action and may seek donations to help cover the cost.

“At the end of the day, someone was detained unlawfully for ten minutes and he was held down and choked on his own blood as he begged for help from anybody,” Josh Bane said in a phone interview on September 13. “It doesn’t take that long to detain a 160-pound man with three officers. They mistook his involuntary movements for resisting, when in reality he suffers from Huntington’s – all of this in front of his two children, who were unattended.

“They could have easily cuffed him and put him in the car in 30 seconds and continued on as if it were routine. For some reason, they wanted to punish him for ten minutes. It was a brutal timeout, if you want to be sarcastic about it.”

According to Josh, the police sprayed mace on his uncle and punched him in the face. In the video, blood covers Jeffrey’s face. The Justice for Jeffrey Bane page includes photographs showing the injuries allegedly suffered by Jeffrey in the incident.

View of some of Jeffrey Bane's injuries allegedly suffered in police incident (photo from Justice for Jeffrey Bane Facebook page)

Going to the park

Josh emphasized that, despite suspicions of child abuse and drug usage, the police did not charge Jeffrey with those crimes. He described as false one media report asserting that Stup told police Jeffrey had an “opiate dependency” and that the couple had fought and she was planning to leave Jeffrey. He added that when the officers questioned him about drugs, Jeffrey became “agitated,” offering immediately to take a urine test.

“She wasn’t even home when Jeff left with the kids,” he said, adding that the couple has strived to “hold it together and deal with everything they have to go through.”

“Uncle Jeff was just going to the park with his kids,” Josh said, explaining why Jeffrey was walking down the street with his children.

Josh, who lived in the same home with Jeffrey for several years and has watched him decline because of HD, recognized that his uncle’s symptoms have diminished his life.

He’s not wheelchair-bound by any means, but the jerking is bad,” Josh said. He’s not to the point where he’s bedridden. He can’t work. He can’t have a normal life by any means.”

However, Josh also asserted that having HD does not prevent Jeffrey from enjoying his family and exercising his rights as a parent.

Josh asserted that the police misunderstood the HD-caused jerky movement of the stroller as lack of concern for the children.

“Who would deny any person the right to their children regardless of how sick they are?” he said. The children represent the one thing that brings Jeffrey and Stup “joy in the world.”

As part of its report, WDTV showed footage of a surveillance video of Jeffrey walking down the street with his children moments before his arrest.

Josh posted the video on the Justice for Jeffrey Bane with a comment: “My uncle walking just prior to his arrest. Does this look like child abuse? He's simply walking to the store with his kids. You tell me if this warranted him being detained in the manner that he was.”

You can watch the video below.

Seeking to educate the police, society

Serious questions linger about this incident.

In particular, why did the officers simply not put Bane into a police vehicle immediately after handcuffing him? Why did they not respond to his pleas for help? Did the officers have crisis intervention training?

Westover Police Chief Ken Fike did not respond to my request for an interview to discuss the incident. Nor could I reach the Granville chief. I had hoped to raise awareness about HD. I will send both departments a copy of this article and tell them how to obtain HDSA’s above-mentioned Law Enforcement Training Guide.

Other HD advocates focused on the incident are also working on awareness efforts.

We’ve got to spread awareness,” said Josh. “This is a disease that’s so unknown. People think it’s Parkinson’s. This is different. It completely disrupts the mind. If all that comes out of this is awareness for that, I’ll be happy.”

Be brave about your HD

Josh confirmed that Jeff did not tell the police he had HD. Nor was Jeff carrying the HDSA “I Have Huntington’s Disease” card.

“People with HD need to be brave enough to say ‘I have Huntington's disease,’” wrote Dr. Nance, who was recently invited to write a book chapter on HD in the criminal justice system. “It is up to the people around them, including law enforcement officers, to understand what that means.”

Dr. Nance also pointed out that HD-affected individuals can be extremely “impulsive,” sometimes causing the line between intent and symptom-driven behavior to become blurry.

“And some people with HD do get into drugs and alcohol, so just saying ‘don't hurt me, I've got HD’ may underestimate the danger of HD to self or others,” she observed.

Like Josh and Vetter, Dr. Nance concluded that people should channel their outrage about the Jeffrey Bane incident into proactive, public advocacy.

“Let us all use this opportunity, as citizens, or members of HD chapters, to speak to our local law enforcement – police, fire, emergency – about HD, and to provide them with the HDSA Law Enforcement Training Guide.