Sharon Kailas wants to make a difference. In some fashion, and in some manner, she wants to help others. And when she was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2012, that strong desire didn’t go away. All it did was take a slight detour.
Instead of helping children with special needs, as she had done for 33 years, Sharon pivoted and decided to help others, like herself, who had been diagnosed with neurological disorders.
"I want my legacy to be that I contributed to helping MCW faculty find a cure for neurological disorders," says Sharon, the 56-year-old director of pupil services for the West Bend, WI, School District. "We all have the potential to make a difference in our own way. This is how I now choose to do it."
To help accomplish this, Sharon decided in 2015 to join the MCW Neuroscience Research Board, a group of ambassadors and fundraisers for the MCW Neuroscience Research Center. She saw it as an opportunity to be an advocate for herself and others while offering a unique perspective to the faculty members on the Board.
"Working with special education students for much of my career, I understand how people can have different perceptions of life, and how things can change and take you in a different direction, and I felt like this was a good opportunity to share those views with the other Board members," Sharon says. “I also am the only female patient on the Board, which enables me to offer another unique perspective.
"I joined so I could advocate for myself and other patients, and help researchers remember we are all people with lives and dreams," Sharon adds.
Around the same time she joined the Board, Sharon also began planning a company, Gray Matter Matters, LLC, to help raise awareness and funds to support MCW neurological disease research. The company sells brain-themed accessories like ties and scarves, and recently launched its website.
"I believe there are cures out there for Parkinson's and other neurological disorders, and want to provide whatever I can to make them a reality," Sharon notes.
Her efforts are a family affair. Her daughters – Sammy (26) and Gabby (23) – help with the website and social media, and her husband, Chris, fills in where needed and makes sure they continue to have fun and enjoy life.
"I think it is important to accept your life as it is, and accept that things happen for a reason," Sharon says. "Things came together that pointed me in this direction, and I'm not sure yet why they did, but we will figure that out in the future."
The Neuroscience Research Center was created in 2011 to enhance basic and translational neuroscience at MCW. More than 40 faculty members in 13 departments are involved in neuroscience research.
– Anthony Braza
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