Streep attracts hundreds to suburban epilepsy benefit
Meryl Streep said she has heard the same story for nearly 20 years.
She comes across tales of children with pediatric epilepsy, suffering from multiple seizures per day and finding no relief with drugs or surgery.
But then their parents learn about the ketogenic diet, which supporters like Streep say can treat the disease, and their children drastically improve or seizures disappear.
"That people aren't being told about this, I find that really unconscionable," Streep said Friday.
The star of films like the new "Hope Springs" and "Julie & Julia" came to Hilton Chicago Indian Lakes Resort in Bloomingdale Friday night to speak in support of this treatment. Streep was the main attraction at a charity gala for The Charlie Foundation to Cure Pediatric Epilepsy.
The foundation, launched in 1994 by "Naked Gun" director Jim Abrahams, advocates for education about the ketogenic diet. Abraham's son, Charlie, suffered from epilepsy as a child, and he turned to the diet after drugs and brain surgery failed.
Charlie, who is now 19 and attended the fundraiser Friday, eats a normal diet today and has not experienced seizures since he was a toddler.
The high-fat, adequate-protein and low-carbohydrate diet mimics aspects of fasting by forcing the body to burn fats and ketone bodies rather than carbohydrates.
The ketones then pass into the brain and replace glucose as an energy source, and these elevated ketone levels reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures.
Sixty guests paid $1,000 to share a cocktail hour with Streep and pose in a photo with her.
They also mingled with Abrahams and the event's emcee, comedian and Chicago native Jeff Garlin, a writer and actor in shows such as "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
They then joined roughly 300 other guests for a dinner that included speeches by Streep and patients affected by the diet.
The gala benefit was part of a four-day, international medical symposium focusing on dietary therapies for neurological disorders.
Streep has been advocating for The Charlie Foundation and the ketogenic diet since meeting Abrahams while filming the 1997 TV movie "First, Do No Harm." The film focuses on the diet as an option for treating pediatric epilepsy.
On Friday Abrahams said he wishes awareness of the diet was spreading faster to families of the 50 million people who have the illness worldwide, as well as their doctors.
"It's not in my nature to be patient," he said.
Although, the foundation has helped bring the treatment to organizations like UCLA Health System, Abraham and Streep say more must be done.
That's why a large portion of Friday's proceeds will benefit Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, to help develop an epilepsy dietary treatment clinic for children and adults.
Streep said bringing the ketogenic diet to hospitals is important, but the next step is to make it part of the education curriculum for medical students.
"If patients demand it, (awareness) won't happen" she said.
"But if doctors demand it, I think it would."
Garlin is the newest celebrity to lend his voice to the cause. He said he hadn't heard of the diet until he was approached by Abrahams to join Friday's fundraiser.
But he said he wasn't surprised to learn nutrition could play such a key role.
"I haven't had (sweets) in almost four years. … They left me in a fog," he said.
"And if you would have told me four years ago that having a candy bar would keep me in a fog, I'd tell you that's crazy."
The comedian said anyone who is curious about the treatment should make one small gesture that could help a friend, family member or even their own child.
"Just research for five more minutes on the Internet," he said.