While talking Tuesday night about the tragic loss of his first wife and daughter, Vice President Joe Biden assured supporters of Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy that a cure is possible.
“I can only image what it’s like to stare at your child while their eyes roll back in their head,” Biden said at Navy Pier’s Grand Ballroom. “But the truth is, I believe with every fiber of my being that (a cure) is just around the corner.”
Biden was the keynote speaker for the group’s annual Chicago event, which included Peter Sagal, host of National Public Radio’s “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me.”
“There’s no pain in the world like watching your child die,” he said, recalling the day in 1972 when his wife and daughter died in a car accident a week before Christmas.
“Together we are going to find a cure,” he said.
The couple’s eldest daughter, Lauren, began having seizures at seven months old. Frustrated by the lack of treatment options, Susan Axelrod and two other mothers started CURE out of their homes.
Biden praised the women during his speech.
“Those three mothers around a kitchen table … we thank you for making so much room at that kitchen table,” he said.
David Axelrod, who introduced the vice president, talked about the devastating effect epilepsy has had on his family.
“Each one of us holds out some hope that we can make a breakthrough,” Axelrod said before the dinner. “What our goal has been is to seed the kind of research that the government won’t yet seed because it’s not fully proven.”
Parents of children with epilepsy can feel isolated, Axelrod said.
“It felt like we had to be the only people in the world going through this nightmare,” he said, recalling the frustration he and his wife felt at their limited ability to help their daughter. “A whole community has grown up around this foundation.”
Axelrod’s White House connections have helped raise the profile of the Chicago nonprofit.
This year “could be a record setter for Chicago,” said group CEO Carmita Vaughan, whose mother died of epilepsy at age 52.
With almost 900 in attendance, the event brought in about $800,000 to support research and raise awareness.