Annette Whittemore turns focus back to medical research
Gala for institute returns Friday
Sep. 8, 2013
Written by Siobhan McAndrew
I Hope You Dance benefit gala
WHEN: 6 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Atlantis Hotel Casino Resort Spa
HONOREES: Bob and Jan Davidson of the Davidson Academy of Nevada and Pat Fero, advocate
COST: $250 a seat, $4,000 a table.
DETAILS: 775-682-8250 or wpinstitute.org.
Annette Whittemore hopes her last name will someday be associated with research, discoveries and treatments.
But for the past two years, Whittemore, CEO, president and founder of the Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease, has faced national headlines linking her name to her husband's highly publicized federal trial for campaign finance violations, among other legal troubles.
But things are moving forward, Whittemore said in an interview Thursday. Her institute, a nonprofit, will hold its eighth benefit gala on Friday night.
"I'm persistent," Whittemore said from the institute's offices and lab inside the Center for Molecular Medicine at the University of Nevada, Reno.
"We want people to know we are moving right along with research. We aren't going to stop until we find answers."
The gala, once a must-attend stop on the local social calendar, returns after it was canceled last year.
This year, the event will host about 100 fewer people than in the past, Whittemore said, but people are still making donations. She is expecting 250 to 300 people to attend the $4,000-a-table dinner at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa.
Whittemore said it's time to focus on the good research happening at the institute — not past legal problems or questions about a discredited study by a former researcher at the institute.
"You can hear all of these things, and read the stories about my husband, and I know who he is, and so do the people who are close to us," she said.
In May, Harvey Whittemore was found guilty of three felony counts linked to illegal campaign contributions to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. The former lobbyist and Nevada political power broker will be sentenced on Sept. 23 and could face a maximum of five years in prison and $750,000 in fines.
In January, the couple was accused of embezzling millions of dollars from partners in Harvey Whittemore's real estate businesses that developed Wingfield Springs and Red Hawk golf courses in Spanish Springs.
The lawsuit alleged the Whittemores used a company aircraft for personal flights and Wingfield Springs for personal favors that benefited the Whittemore Peterson Institute.
"We settled those (lawsuits) and are happy with the outcomes," Annette Whittemore said.
She's said it's been a tough time for her family, including for daughter Andrea Whittemore-Goad.
Understanding a disease
Whittemore-Goad, 35, was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome at 12. The once active little girl who played piano and insisted friends exercise for fun was debilitated by what felt like a horrible flu and headaches that wouldn't go away.
Frustrated by doctors who diagnosed a slew of illnesses, including one who said the 12-year-old had a mental illness instead of a medical problem, the family sought out specialists from around the country. Finally, a diagnosis led the family to the realization that little was known or being done about a disease that affects 17 million people worldwide.
Symptoms of the disease can include exhaustion; muscle and joint pain; headaches; cognitive difficulties; and digestive, cardiac and respiratory problems that sometimes lead to death.
"There has been a lot of misinformation out there about my family," Whittemore-Goad said. "But we have to keep doing the work we are doing because people don't understand this disease and how debilitating it is."
Whittemore-Goad, the second oldest of the family's five children, said her parents have shown grace through difficulty. She said her mother and father are her inspirations and have had to suffer beyond what the headlines say, having to watch a child suffer.
"I think of them as my parents who would have taken me anywhere to get better, but we realized there was nowhere for us to go," she said.
For years, Whittemore-Goad wasn't able to drive or do simple things such as go to the grocery store.
Things improved when Dr. Daniel Peterson of Incline Village, for whom the institute is also named, put her on a drug that he was finding successful with patients. It later stopped being effective, and Whittemore-Goad relapsed and her symptoms got worse.
Peterson cut ties with the institute in 2010.
The work continues
The institute received international acclaim in 2009 after it released research that appeared to be a major breakthrough linking chronic fatigue syndrome to a retrovirus.
Ultimately, the research was discredited and one of the institute's researchers, Judy Mikovits, was fired and later arrested for taking proprietary information from the institute. Criminal charges against her were later dropped.
While the past two years has brought hate mail, Annette Whittemore said she will not waver in her commitment to helping patients who suffer from a disease that has a high suicide rate.
"It all goes away when you get a thank you note from someone who we are giving hope," she said.
Whittemore said that since the institute started in 2005 as part of a joint venture with the medical school, other research centers have followed suit.
Whittemore-Goad said the silver lining to her family's name being in the headlines is the attention it brings to research about chronic fatigue syndrome.
Research at the institute is moving forward with a team of five people. Medical students at UNR also work on research.
At Friday's gala, the institute will announce that Belgium physician Kenny De Meirleir, who works with patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, will open a clinic at the institute and start seeing patients in the United States for the first time, Whittemore said.
He has clinics in other countries and will be in Reno about every six weeks.
"It's amazing that we will have someone like that here to meet with patients," Whittemore-Goad said. "I have wanted to go to him since I was 14 but was never well enough to travel that far."