BALTIMORE–Flehner-Lathrop Syndrome Foundation officials excitedly announced Monday that actor Ted Danson has been diagnosed with the rare, deadly degenerative disease, bringing much-needed star power to their cause.
"This is the big one we've been waiting for," said Paula Brooks, director of the Baltimore-based FLS Foundation. "For years, our organization struggled with scant funding, a dearth of resources, and the lack of a prominent spokesperson to draw attention to this dread disease. Then, out of the blue, Ted Danson! Needless to say, we're elated."
"Before this," Brooks continued, "the closest thing we had to a celebrity afflicted with FLS was a cousin of Al Jarreau's. Obviously, this is a big step up."
Flehner-Lathrop Syndrome, a genetic cardiac disorder which causes the heart's left ventricle to deteriorate and typically results in death within three to five years, affects fewer than 1 in 500,000 Americans–grim statistics for any disease seeking a high-profile celebrity to shine a spotlight on its cause.
"A disease this rare usually can't compete with the big boys," Brooks said. "But this takes us to the next level. With Ted in our corner, FLS can hold its own against just about anybody, from Tay-Sachs to cystic fibrosis."
Danson, 52, best known for his role as bartender Sam Malone on the hit 1980s NBC sitcom Cheers and currently the star of CBS's Becker, was diagnosed with FLS Sept. 12, five days after complaining of chest pain during a celebrity golf tournament in Palm Springs, CA. The diagnosis has delighted sufferers of the disease and their loved ones.
"I've been a fan of Ted Danson's forever," said West Columbia, SC, resident Emily Dutler, whose 11-year-old son Seth was stricken with FLS last year. "I mean, I've probably seen every episode of Cheers five times. I can't tell you what a godsend this is to have him speaking and fundraising on Seth's behalf. We've prayed for something like this to happen."
"This really puts us in position for a very lucrative run," wrote Brooks in the September/October issue of Heartbeats, the FLS Foundation's bimonthly newsletter. "We can expect three or four good years of impassioned spokesmanship from Ted, followed by several months of heartrending images of his brave, final battle with FLS–the kind of thing that really jerks tears and gets donations pouring in. Then, when Ted finally dies, expect a full week's worth of tributes in USA Today and on Entertainment Tonight that mention his love for our organization. Then there's the cover of People, guaranteed. All told, that translates to somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 million in free advertising and promotion."
"It really is amazing," said Mark Knoll, national director of communications for the FLS Foundation. "I know of diseases that afflict 10 to 20 times as many people as ours, and they don't have a spokesperson anywhere near as big as Ted Danson. I mean, look at cardiofibrilitis–1 in 20,000 Americans are afflicted, and all they've got is Alfonso Ribeiro. Talk about low-wattage advocacy."
"And it's not like Danson is some washed-up star with nothing but a couple of Emmys and his memories," Knoll continued. "I mean, Becker is one of the top-rated television shows in the country, with a choice Monday-night slot between Everybody Loves Raymond and Family Law. You can't get much better than that."
The FLS Foundation is already moving ahead with a promotional campaign to capitalize on its new celebrity sufferer. In next week's issue of Time, the organization will run a full-page ad featuring a photo of Danson accompanied by the words, "Making Your Way In The World Today Takes Everything You've Got… Especially If You've Got An Incurable Cardiac Disorder Like Flehner-Lathrop Syndrome."
"Make no mistake," Brooks said, "Mr. Danson is going to get the red-carpet treatment from us. When he sees how grateful we are, I think Ted will agree he couldn't have come down with a better fatal disease than Flehner-Lathrop Syndrome."
Pausing to open a letter that had just come across her desk, Brooks emitted a delighted squeal and brandished the newest bequest to the FLS Foundation: a check for $250,000 from CBS Television.
"Couldn't you just die?" a gleeful Brooks said.