SOURCE: Florida Children's Dysautonomia Association

January 25, 2011 09:17 ET

Mother of Two Struts Her Stuff to Show That Advocacy Is a Beautiful Thing

Kelly Ruggiero Represents Florida Children's Dysautonomia Association in 2011 Ms. America® Pageant

FT. LAUDERDALE, FL--(Marketwire - January 25, 2011) - Imagine being the parent of a healthy, active teenage daughter. Then, overnight, that same child suddenly becomes completely disabled from an incurable illness.

That's exactly the situation Kelly Ruggiero found herself in several years ago when her oldest daughter became unable to attend school or carry out normal activities because she was in such intense pain. After numerous trips to top doctors and specialists, she was finally diagnosed with Dysautonomia, a malfunction of the autonomic nervous system.

"We were so thankful to finally have a diagnosis," says Ruggiero. "Little did we know, our nightmare was just beginning."

Because Dysautonomia is an incurable illness, all Ruggiero and her husband could do was treat their daughter's symptoms as they appeared. Out of desperation, Ruggiero began researching and reading about the illness herself. She eventually got one of her daughter's doctors to agree to try a medical treatment she discovered that hadn't previously been studied in children. Almost instantly, all of her daughter's symptoms disappeared.

A little over a year later, Ruggiero's youngest daughter began suffering from similar symptoms. She too was diagnosed with Dysautonomia. The same treatment that was successful for her sister worked for her. Thanks in large part to Ruggiero's research, the treatment that worked for her daughters is now being widely considered as a viable option for other teenagers suffering from Dysautonomia. Ruggiero has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine and has been awarded the "Healthy Child, Healthy World" award for her contributions.

"I have been blessed in unspeakable ways throughout my life, especially over the past few years," remembers Ruggiero. "I now have the chance to help thousands of other people."

Determined to pay it forward, Ruggiero decided to enter the world of beauty pageants. In November of last year, she was named "Mrs. Broward County." And she has been selected out of hundreds of applicants to represent South Florida at the 2011 Ms. America® Pageant which is taking place in Anaheim, California, at the end of this month. Ruggiero hopes to use the national platform to bring attention to the Florida Children's Dysautonomia Foundation (FLCDF).

"We have to raise awareness about this disease and this treatment," says Ruggiero. "If I can help one child avoid the suffering and pain that my children had to go through, it will have all been worth it."

Ruggiero is President of FLCDF. The foundation's mission is to educate doctors, hospitals and the public on how to diagnose this misunderstood and often misdiagnosed illness that affects mostly females between the ages of 11 and 14. Symptoms of Dysautonomia include stomach issues, nausea, body pain, dizziness, weakness, brain fog, changes in heart rate, and sometimes fainting. It is estimated that up to three million teenagers are affected by the illness.

"My hope is that by being crowned Ms. America, I can not only promote my charity, but that I can also be a good role model for everyone out there who never gives up," add Ruggiero.

Ruggiero resides in Parkland, Florida, with her husband, Nick, and their two daughters, Amanda and Jessica. To learn more about Dysautonomia, visit http://flcdf.com.

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