The story behind her smile…

Rhonda Burchmore is a much-loved Australian entertainer. A performer with more than 35 years’ experience on stage and screen, and a list of credits that even includes an Order of Australia medal.
But behind the glitz and glamour of Rhonda’s exciting showbiz career is the pain of having lost three of her closest family members to different neurodegenerative diseases.

Sadly, in the space of just a few short years, Rhonda lost her father Jack to a rare form of Parkinson’s Disease. Then her sister, Michelle, to the even rarer Multiple System Atrophy. And lastly, her mother Yvonne to dementia.

Rhonda is sharing her painful story with our NeuRA family in the hope it will raise much-needed funds for neurological research and increase our understanding of the conditions that cut short the lives of her loved ones.

Unfortunately, there are no cures or effective treatments for the brain diseases that devastated Rhonda’s family. And in the case of her sister Michelle, who lost her battle with Multiple System Atrophy at the age of 57, very little is even known about the condition.

Over the course of just a few years, Rhonda saw Michelle lose all the functions of her body, due to the degeneration of nerve cells in her brain.

“It’s such a cruel, cruel disease,” Rhonda says. “There was a slow breakdown, she couldn’t use her hand and then she had difficulty with walking. Eventually she couldn’t talk and even swallowing became tough…
“It was such a slow demise of just everything. It was just so painfully slow and so awful to watch.”

The goal of the Sydney Brain Bank at NeuRA is to learn more about diseases of the brain and nervous system so we can develop effective treatments and cures, and ultimately save lives. Brain tissue samples from the Sydney Brain Bank are also used by other researchers undertaking similar work throughout Australia and the world.

Unfortunately, due to the impacts of COVID-19, the Sydney Brain Bank has lost its main source of funding and is now entirely reliant on donations like yours to continue this vital work.

What’s important to remember is that a breakthrough in one neurodegenerative disease can lead to a breakthrough in all of them. Everything we learn about the brain is relevant for helping to understand what we can do to prevent these diseases from taking the lives of our loved ones.

This is something that means a lot to Rhonda, who also saw both her parents succumb to neurodegenerative diseases. Her father Jack lost his battle with a rare form of Parkinson’s Disease in 2009, while her mother Yvonne lost her battle with Dementia in 2017.

“Every time the phone would ring, especially if it was an interstate number, I knew it was something about one of my sick family members,” Rhonda recalls.

“There’d be times when I would be about to go on stage and I’d get a phone call from one of the doctors who told me something troubling. But I had to keep the show going because I couldn’t go and tell a couple of thousand people that ‘I can’t go on’ because of family tragedy. Trying to put on a happy face for the public while my family was suffering was incredibly hard for me.”

In our lifetimes, we’ve already seen major advances in our understanding of countless neurological diseases. We have every reason to believe that in the next five to ten years, those advances – across a range of neurodegenerative conditions – will be even greater.

We just have to keep searching for answers.

NeuRA’s Sydney Brain Bank is critical to that work. Please give what you can to help .

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