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Q&A: Billy Smith, Scholarship Recipient

Online "Scleroderma Voice" Exclusive

Billy Smith conference scholarship recipient
Billy Smith (center) participates in a workshop discussion as Laura Dyas of the Michigan Chapter looks on.

Diagnosed with scleroderma in winter 2006, 22-year-old Billy Smith of Flint, Mich., received a full scholarship to attend the 2011 National Patient Education Conference in San Francisco.

"Scleroderma Voice" editor Christina Relacion spoke with Billy shortly after the conference to talk about his experience, and why this event is so beneficial to patients.

CR: What was the most important piece of information you learned at the conference?

BS: My doctors in Michigan thought that my symptoms were so unusual. But, once I got to the conference, I was just normal. I noticed that my symptoms were more common than I thought.

CR: What was your favorite session to attend at the conference and why?

BS: My favorites were the sessions with Samantha Murray's family. I was able to talk to everyone in the family, and see how the disease affects the whole family. Samantha also had a friend with her so I could see how the disease affects her friends.

However, all of the sessions provided amazing information about all of the different forms of scleroderma. I learned about a broader spectrum of the disease.

Billy Smith conference awards 2011
Billy, along with some of his new friends, at the National Patient Education Conference awards banquet.

CR: Were there any memorable contacts that you made during the weekend?

BS: I didn't even know about the Michigan Chapter, but now I met Laura Dyas, the Michigan Chapter's executive director. I'm also currently with my fourth doctor in two years. At the conference, I was able to connect with Dr. Dinesh Khanna, who is now at the University of Michigan. He was the best contact I made since I have had so many doctors say they don't want me as a patient. Talking with Ken Athans, another scleroderma patient, was very helpful and comforting because it put me in contact with another man with scleroderma.

The people are defintely the most amazing part of the conference. There is such a comforting factor more than anything because everyone goes through the same things. Everybody is so lively and wants to help you. They tell you that anything is possible and it will be OK.

CR: Why should patients try to attend the Scleroderma Foundation's National Patient Education Conference?

BS: Attending the conference is such a relief. Since I was so young when I received my diagnosis and I am male, there aren't too many examples of what is going to happen for me. It put me at ease to see others who are doing everything they want to. I learned as much from the people attending the conference as I did from the workshops.

I was worried about going alone and trying to figure everything out. But, people welcomed me to workshops along with them. They are so kind and walk to help others who are just like them. You don't have to worry about being by yourself. You will run into so many new people to do things with during the conference.

To learn more about the National Patient Education Conference Scholarhip Program, contact Tracey Sperry, Director of Development and Research, at (800) 722-HOPE (4673) or email


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