Faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, many people would readily concede defeat. Not Julie Cosgrove-Garcia. A 32-year veteran of San Francisco, California, U.S.-based Pacific Gas & Electric, Cosgrove-Garcia learned in 2001 that her youngest child, Nicholas, had Duchenne (pronounced doo-shen) muscular dystrophy, a progressive muscle-wasting disorder that affects primarily boys and for which no treatment or cure presently exists. Rather than accept the doctor's advice to “go home and enjoy your child for as long as you can, because there is nothing we can do,” Cosgrove-Garcia chose to become an advocate for Nick and the thousands of other boys and families affected by Duchenne's.

Recently, the operating clerk-typist in PG&E's Sacramento electric control center operations department was one of only five of the company's more than 20,000 employees to receive the Frederick W. Mielke Jr. Award for Outstanding Community Service in recognition of her unflagging commitment to finding treatment and a cure for Duchenne's. The award includes a commemorative trophy as well as a $5,000 donation to the organization of the recipient's choice.

“I feel fortunate to be a part of the PG&E family, and I am so grateful that the company recognizes the volunteer work that its employees do,” she said. “Along with the Mielke Award, PG&E has a ‘Campaign for the Community' program, which allows 100% of an employee's donation to go toward the charity of their choice. This program also helps raise awareness of the different charities that are out there and the huge need for volunteer assistance.”

The desire to assist others comes naturally to this wife and mother. A graduate of San Francisco State with a bachelor's degree in sociology, her job at PG&E enables her to support between 50 and 60 employees, three supervisors and a manager.

“During the three decades I have been with the company, I have tried to hold positions that involve helping others in one way or another, whether it is troubleshooting, supervising, coordinating meetings or answering payroll questions,” she said. “That is very rewarding to me. I am also thankful that my job allows me to be as available to my family as possible, because family has always come first.”

Part of making family a priority includes Cosgrove-Garcia's involvement with Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy (PPMD), the largest nonprofit organization in the United States focused entirely on Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Founded in 1994, PPMD funds research, raises awareness, promotes advocacy, connects the community and expands treatment options.

“Our lives changed forever the day we learned of Nick's condition,” recalled Cosgrove-Garcia. “In addition to being told our son had an incurable, fatal disease, my husband and I were offered no optimism, no choices in medication, no physical therapy, no support groups, nothing. PPMD is changing that. My son may not have a treatment or a cure in his time, but I do believe his quality of life is better because of PPMD.”

Since Nick's diagnosis 10 years ago, Cosgrove-Garcia has traveled to Washington, D.C., each February to participate in the annual PPMD advocacy meeting, which lobbies Congress to obtain support for NIH and CDC funding. To date, the organization has helped fund six centers of excellence, known as the Paul Wellstone Centers, for muscular dystrophy research.

“I spend many hours on the home computer sending e-mails after visiting Washington, D.C., in the hope of gaining support,” she noted. “As with any disease, education and awareness are critical for an early diagnosis, which ultimately could lead to successful treatment and possibly a cure.”

To further raise awareness about Duchenne's, Cosgrove-Garcia speaks publicly about her family's personal experience with the disease, which includes reaching out to the community as well as to her colleagues at PG&E, who have so far contributed more than $48,000 to PPMD.

“Nick recently celebrated his 19th birthday and has plans to return to college to continue his studies. He would like a career in digital media,” said Cosgrove-Garcia. “In most ways, Nick is a typical young man who wants to be independent.”

In the meantime, Cosgrove-Garcia plans to continue her career at PG&E, her involvement with PPMD and her efforts to increase awareness, education and fundraising for Duchenne's research. More importantly, she wants to ensure each of her three children has the best life possible.

“I am like every other parent who wants good things for their children,” she said. “The message I am trying to get across does not just apply to those affected by Duchenne's, it can apply to anyone and any situation. I want people to know that change is possible if you have hope. Hope is a powerful word. I believe there are cures out there right now to help those afflicted by diseases said to be incurable. It is just a matter of time until we find them.”


Editor's note: To learn more about Project Parent Muscular Dystrophy, visit www.parentprojectmd.org.