A little over 15 years ago, the lives of an Oconee family were forever changed when Paul Wiggans was diagnosed with myotonic dystrophy, a form of muscular dystrophy that affects adults.

Since then, his wife, Athens Academy reading specialist Angie Wiggans, has become an advocate for myotonic dystrophy awareness and research through the Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation nonprofit.

Angie was the 2020 recipient of the MDF’s Above and Beyond Award. Over the past year, she has raised $52,000.

Angie called the recognition “empowering” on multiple levels.

“I did this [work] to honor Paul because sometimes I feel like he doesn’t feel seen,” she said.

The disease can present itself via seemingly unconnected symptoms ranging from progressive muscle weakness, muscle atrophy and heart problems to cataracts, loss of executive function in the brain and infertility from hormone changes. It affects approximately 40,000 people across the United States and is the most common type of muscular dystrophy for adults to have.

“We know that the research isn’t probably going to help him,” Angie said. “He probably won’t survive to see a treatment or cure, but there are people affected by myotonic dystrophy who are much younger, and we’re hoping that, in their lifetimes, there will be something to make a difference in their quality of life.”

Angie started her grassroots campaign last spring as a way to use her and others’ creativity to advocate for people who have DM. Much of the campaign focused on a fun activility.

We just challenged people to wear crazy socks, because Paul can’t put socks on,” she said. “If he wears socks, we have to help him put on socks.”

Their son, Athens Academy junior Alex, was interviewed for a public-service-announcement video. In the video, Alex talked about how he helps his father around the house and how he addresses other people’s questions and misconceptions about DM.

“You just have to explain that most people can do simple things, and he can’t,” Alex said in the video. “Most dads can grab a football or kick a soccer ball, and he probably can’t grab a football anymore.”

In the latter part of the video, viewers were encouraged to grab their crazy patterned socks with the phrase “the crazier, the better.” The PSA even got a little silly with local dancers spinning and jumping while donning their own crazy socks. People could further participate in the challenge by posting a video of themselves dancing in crazy socks to their social media accounts with the hashtag #SocksOnChallenge.

“People were able to find out how it affects Paul and other people who are affected not just by myotonic dystrophy but other kinds of dystrophy,” Angie added.

In September, Angie set up a fundraising page for MDF. She explained that grassroots efforts like her family’s have become more important during the pandemic, since many in-person events have been curtailed.

Meanwhile, Alex worked with the academy to design crazy socks, which the school bought to sell at its Spartan Center store. Proceeds went toward the fundraising campaign.

Through those avenues, the #SocksOnChallenge has helped raise over $52,000. An anonymous donor even matched fundraising efforts once the campaign raised $25,000.

“When somebody says they’ll match something that big, then you feel like... it’s a call to action,” Angie said.

Usually, campaigns like this might raise $4,000 or $5,000, so the results have blown Angie and MDF away.

“In fact, MDF would not have been able to support a fifth research fellow in 2021 if it were not for the #SocksOnChallenge.

“Angie’s efforts ensured more research fellows would be working toward treatment and a cure for DM than any year prior,” said the MDF’s Above and Beyond award webpage.

People can still donate to MDF through buying Athens Academy’s crazy socks or via Angie’s award webpage, myotonic.org/mdf-2020-above-beyond-award-angie-wiggans.

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