SOURCE: Sacred Heart Schools, Atherton

Sacred Heart Schools, Atherton

May 03, 2010 09:30 ET

Sacred Heart Preparatory Student Joe Wise Testifies Before California State Senate to Encourage Support for Federal Research on Mitochondrial Disease

ATHERTON, CA--(Marketwire - May 3, 2010) -  Joe Wise, a junior at Sacred Heart Schools, Atherton who was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease at the age of nine, will testify before the California State Senate in Sacramento, Calif., to encourage passing Senate Joint Resolution No. 23 (SJR23), which was introduced by former State Senator Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria) and is now being carried by State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto). The testimony takes place on May 5, 2010, at 1:30 p.m. in Room 4203 in the California State Capitol.

Former Senator Maldonado introduced SJR23 after meeting Wise in November 2009. Wise, whose brother Jack also is afflicted with the same disease, met with Maldonado along with Governor Schwarzenegger last fall to gain awareness of mitochondrial disease and the need for federal research. SJR23 is important because it urges President Obama and the Congress of the United States to take action on amending the federal statues to support federal research for mitochondrial disease. 

Mitochondria are often called the "powerhouses of the cell." They are specialized compartments within almost every cell and are responsible for producing the energy needed by our body to sustain life. Mitochondria combine oxygen from the air we breathe with calories from food to produce the energy required for all bodily functions. If the mitochondria fail to produce sufficient energy, the cell will not function properly and organ systems will fail. 

Today, five million people are affected with mitochondrial disease worldwide, with 300,000 cases in the U.S. and 180,000 potential cases in California alone. Medical researchers have determined that one in 4,000 children will develop a mitochondrial disease by age 10. New research indicates that one in 200 healthy people carry the mutation that could become mitochondrial disease at some point in their lives. Research also indicates that mitochondrial disease can be linked to Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Autism Spectrum Disorders. Currently, there is no cure for the disease, nor is there a specific treatment. 

Wise, a youth ambassador for the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation (UMDF) and a member of the 2008 Paralympics U.S. swim team, has made it his goal to increase awareness of mitochondrial diseases to lawmakers. In June of 2009, Wise met with U.S. Representatives Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto) and Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo), and U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) on Capitol Hill to speak out about the disease and gain support for federal legislation to increase funding and efforts for expanded research through the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

"It's important to me to reach out and speak to lawmakers and educate them about mitochondrial diseases and convey the urgent need for federal support for more research," commented Wise. "If we can gain wider public awareness about this disease then hopefully we can create more attention to finding a cure."

"We are very proud of his accomplishments in advocacy and his ability to help us get these bills moving forward," said Mitochondrial Disease Foundation Executive Director and CEO Charles A. Mohan, Jr. "Joe exemplifies what it is to be a youth ambassador for the UMDF. He has a compelling story to tell because he is an athlete who battles this disease on a daily basis. What we are most proud of is the fact that Joe has decided for himself and for others who are affected not to become a victim of the disease, but to become part of the cure."

Currently, the U.S. House of Representatives is considering Bill H.R. 3502, and Senator Barbara Boxer has introduced a companion Bill in the U.S. Senate, S. 2858, also known as the Brittany Wilkinson Mitochondrial Disease Research and Treatment Enhancement Act, named after a young woman who lost her battle with the disease in September 2009. 

Both H.R. 3502 and S. 2858 supports establishing an office of mitochondrial medicine within the NIH and calls for the better coordination of information among the many institutes within the organization to better direct research efforts internally and with outside researchers. 

As a result of Wise's visits on Capitol Hill, Representative Eschoo became an original co-sponsor of H.R. 3502; Representative Speier lent her support behind the bill in March. In February, U. S. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) also signed her name as a co-sponsor for S. 2858.

As part of his social justice curriculum project at Sacred Heart to create more awareness and education about the disease, Wise has embarked on a letter writing campaign with the student body at his school and among the 21 network sister Sacred Heart Schools across the country. Wise is encouraging his fellow classmates to become involved and write letters to their local U.S. Congress and Senate Representatives in support of H.R. 3502 and S. 2858. 

"Joe's social justice project efforts to educate lawmakers and the general public about mitochondrial disease have far exceeded our schools' normal expectations for social justice advocacy," said Sacred Heart Schools Preparatory Principal, James Everitt. "His passion and commitment to living life and making a difference in finding a cure for this disease is remarkable. For Joe, it's personal because his efforts can impact so many other Americans who want a chance at life too."

"I hope to get my fellow classmates engaged with me on this issue, so that together, we can influence the Obama Administration and the Congress of the United States to make a huge first step toward furthering research to understand mitochondrial diseases," said Wise. "I hope my efforts will help others with this disease to keep the faith that we will find a cure soon," said Wise. 

About Sacred Heart Schools, Atherton
Sacred Heart Schools, Atherton ( was founded in 1898 and is located on a 63-acre campus in Atherton, California. The school is an accredited preschool through twelfth grade school, with a total enrollment of approximately 1070 students, and is a member of the International Network of Schools of the Sacred Heart.

About the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation (UMDF)
The United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation ( was founded in 1996 by those who lost loved ones to the disease. UMDF offers support to all sufferers of mitochondrial disorders regardless of diagnosis, suspected or confirmed. Starting as a volunteer organization based in the basement of a home in Pittsburgh, Pa., the UMDF has grown into a nationally recognized organization resented more than 60 local chapters, groups and ambassadors.

Contact Information

  • Contact:
    Millie Lee
    Sacred Heart Schools, Atherton
    Email Contact

    Cliff Gorski
    United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation
    Email Contact