Our Country Ambassador program was established to raise awareness of Refsum disease around the world. Country Ambassadors are responsible for establishing and building relationships within their country to increase awareness and support for those with Refsum disease. Ambassadors serve as official liaisons between their country and the Global DARE Foundation.
Ambassadors are vital in promoting Global DARE Foundation’s mission to promote world-wide awareness and better quality of life for all who are diagnosed with Adult Refsum Disease. Our hope is that the program will help people with Refsum receive an earlier diagnosis and connect people who have already been diagnosed with the Refsum community.
John DeMarco, of Maine, is the Treasurer of the Global DARE Foundation. John received his Bachelor of Science degree from King's College in Wilkes-Barre PA. He has been happily married to Kristie DeMarco for over 25 years and they enjoy four wonderful children together. John’s business background is in hospitality management. John has a long history of commitment to community service as well as previous board experience.
Susie Breuer of Sydney, Australia was diagnosed late with Refsum at the age of 43 after developing full blown symptoms of Refsum after weight loss. The symptoms which led to diagnosis including poor balance with weakened muscle in her legs to the extent she was not able to stand without the aid of a pick-up frame and peripheral neuropathy particularly in her feet. At that time Susie was hospitalized for about 2 months and it took about 18 months for her phytanic acid levels to reduce to allow some improvement in her neuropathic symptoms and to be able to walk with a walking stick.
In hindsight Susie had classic signs of Refsum since childhood, including Retinitis Pigmentosa, no sense of smell and shortened 4th short and in her 20s she started to commence hearing loss. Unfortunately the doctors considered each symptoms separately and did not consider whether some of Susie’s symptoms may collectively be a feature of a genetic condition.
Susie obtained a Bachelor of Economics and Law and Masters in Law and has been working as a solicitor for about 20 years.
Susie volunteered to be a DARE Ambassador for Australia because raising awareness about Refsum in the medical profession and the community is an important pathway to early diagnosis for other patients. This means that patients can adopt the Refsum diet early and exercise other precautions such as monitor weight loss to prevent deterioration of symptoms and maximize quality of life."
Alan grew up in Forest Hills, NY and attended the State University of New York at Buffalo to study history and anthropology. His first job out of college was in sales at the DataEase company in Trumbull, Connecticut, where he sold database software to companies all over the United States. Alan moved from DataEase to QMS and eventually, he was hired by his biggest customer, Xerox Corporation, which would turn out to be Alan’s last job. In 2003, Alan was declared legally blind due to Retinitis Pigmentosa, and stopped working because he could no longer drive to visit his customers. Shortly thereafter Alan started to advocate for the Blind and found himself involved in policy decisions. He joined the VSB as a board member, where he worked to help people understand the needs of the blind. In 2016 Alan discovered that Refsum Disease was the cause of his vision and hearing loss. Alan will now bring his long time advocacy and board experience as a Country Ambassador and Director of Global DARE Foundation.
Chantal Valkenburg was raised in Maasbracht, a small village in the southern region of the Netherlands. Chantal’s training is in retail but her passion for dance, specifically jazz ballet resulted in a career in performing arts and teaching dance. She was diagnosed with Refsum Disease 18 years ago, a diagnosis which has impacted all aspects of her daily living. Despite her limitations, Chantal is a real multitasker - from taking care of her two children and managing the household, to supporting her husband in the everyday responsibilities of running his own business. Inspired by Kristie’s enthusiasm and huge heart for achieving world-wide awareness for Refsum Disease, Chantal decided to become an Ambassador for the Netherlands to help contribute to the Foundation’s mission.
Liz Ebbage who lives in the UK, was first diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at the age of 18 while learning how to drive. Her Refsum diagnosis came a few years later following the birth of her twins. After being diagnosed with eyesight problems Liz volunteered for charities in various roles. She was a district client rep. for several years with the local guide dog owner’s association, with a focus on local and national issues. A guide dog owner herself 5 times over, Liz is passionate about ensuring accessible technology for the blind and partially sighted and plays an active role in early testing of specially adapted products.
Mark Liquorish lives in the UK and was diagnosed with Refsum 40 years ago. Because Refsum disease is an inherited condition, his diagnosis triggered further investigation of the family which revealed his parents were second cousins and abrother who also had Refsum. Mark spent his career working in health care as a nurse and a Manager for the NHS. Now retired, despite his disabilities he is still able to support the community and is a Rotarian and Board member of a successful educational establishment.
Mark is strongly committed to improving the quality of lives of patients with Refsum disease. He is passionate about helping to raise the profile with clinicians and allied health professionals to ensure early diagnosis and treatment for patients. He wants to ensure the DARE message helps people, regardless of their country of residence, get an improved quality of life and also access to good universal medical care.
Michel Veys of Aalter, Belgium was diagnosed with Refsum Disease at the age of 36 although the first symptoms appeared at the young age of 10. Unfortunately, like many people with a rare disease, it took several years for a proper diagnosis to be made and by then many of the more debilitating signs of Refsum Disease were already present.
Following completion of his formal education, Michel worked as an administrative assistant in the local hospital and retirement home. After 25 years of service his advanced Refsum symptoms forced him in to early retirement in 2017. Since then, Michel has dedicated countless hours of volunteer time for the Family Association Services in his community.
He recently accepted the DARE Foundation Ambassadorship for Belgium, in order to contribute to the mission for a better quality of life for people impacted with Refsum Disease.
Susan Kuranoff of Switzerland is a graduate of McGill University, Montreal. Over 20 years ago she was diagnosed with Refsum Disease after a relatively short journey to an accurate diagnosis. She is one of 2 children impacted in her family. Despite partial disability, she enjoys a career in clinical trial management at Novartis Pharma. With the purpose of uniting Refsum patients and their families from far flung places around the world, Susan founded the first online Refsum community on Yahoo! Groups to enable those impacted with the condition to learn about the disease, seek support and connect with others.
In addition to her role as Vice President of the Foundation, Susan is a passionate part of the Ambassador program with the goal of raising awareness, increasing knowledge and connecting patients, mainly in Switzerland and other German speaking countries, for the benefit of all those impacted by Refsum Disease.
Bob was born in 1948 in country New South Wales and moved to Queensland aged 5. He grew up in a family with a profoundly sick Sister and other unwell family members. He learned to support others and developed a strong sense to fight the injustices and inadequacies of the medical and community systems. He was educated at tertiary level and was an active sportsman.
Bob nursed his 11-year son Brendan whilst dying from ALD. He saw a rare disease health system that was not so much broken as never built. To this end he founded the Leukodystrophy Resource & Research Organisation Inc. (LRRO) to create a functional caring scaffold from which the absolute needs of the Australasian Leukodystrophy families could be understood, solutions developed, refined, and enacted. His work has expanded across the world and he is an active member of the global leukodystrophy community.