Celebrities help awareness

It didn’t take long for the national bone marrow registry to expand dramatically in response to Robin Robert’s announcement on Good Morning America that she was suffering from MDS (myelodysplastic syndrome) and would need a transplant. Along with her co-workers (including her GMA co-anchors and ABC News President Ben Sherwood), nearly 15,000 individuals have joined the registry since her June 11 disclosure.

While the folks at the “Be the Match” registry program are elated at the response, they are especially thankful for the opportunity to inspire registration among the minority community where the chance of a finding a match is only about 66 percent for African Americans and other minorities.

By broadcasting her plight, Roberts joins the ranks of the celebrity spokespersons in a position to leverage their popularity to inform and often inspire the public to action.

For example, colon cancer screenings jumped 22 percent after Katie Couric’s 42-year-old husband, Jay Monahan died of colon cancer.

Donations to spinal cord research increased tremendously after Christopher Reeve was severely injured after falling from a horse.

We are more educated and sympathetic to those afflicted with Parkinson’s because of Michael J. Fox and his courageous battle with the disease. His personal story and advocacy for those suffering with Parkinson’s has changed public perception about the disease and raised millions for research aimed at finding a cure.

And, who can forget Yul Brynner’s haunting post-mortem PSA on the ramifications of smoking?

But, there are also those who are climbing aboard the celebrity spokesperson bandwagon with the sole intent of capitalizing on the connection to make a buck. Several talent agencies market paid celebrity appearances and speeches to charities and pharmaceutical companies. CSI Rx is one such service linking celebrities willing to speak on various topics (or even serve as paid spokespeople to endorse products) related to their affliction. Click acid reflux and you can purchase a public appearance from Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz for 10k or country crooner Kenny Rogers for 50k.

Click pancreatic cancer and they’ll go to work tracking down a friend or family member of Patrick Swayze to poignantly tell his personal story and tug on the heart strings of prospective donors or consumers.

Perhaps this is a case of the ends justifying the means. With big money at stake, should we care if a celebrity makes money to lend their support to a cause or hawk the newest designer drug? Isn’t awareness worth any cost? We suspect that for the loved ones of those suffering, the answer is an unqualified yes.