(WDBJ7) A Roanoke man whose family has been deeply affected by Huntington's disease is in Rome, where Pope Francis focused attention on the rare and incurable disease.
Brian Wishneff and his daughter Taylor attended an audience at the Vatican Thursday morning. After the event, he described it as a "very, very emotional day."
Pope Francis met with families from around the world to comfort those who are struggling with the disease, and to fight the stigma Huntington's still carries in many countries. And when he had finished speaking, he ventured into the audience.
"You know to my surprise, I think to everyone's surprise," Wishneff said in a telephone message, "he came out in the audience and really hugged everybody, probably 400-500 people."
So, what is Huntington's disease? We asked Dr. Jay Ferrara, a movement disorder specialist at Carilion Clinic.
"The most obvious and the most characteristic aspect of Huntington's are the involuntary movements associated with it," Ferrara said. "The changes that occur in terms of cognition, memory, behavior are very important, and sometimes the most disabling aspects of the disease."
Ferrara confirms that Huntington's is often misunderstood, and efforts by the Pope and others to raise awareness, he says, are welcome. Wishneff agrees, and says he and his daughter Taylor were fortunate to share a moment with The Pope.
"You know just very sincere person," Wishneff said, "and you can tell kindhearted all the way through."