Maybe you’ve seen him on national television, introducing celebrities. Or seen his picture in the coupon book you can get from Jiffy Lube.
He’s Bryson Foster, and for the past two years, he’s been the national goodwill ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
That means he’s been traveling across the country – including Nashville, Los Angeles, Tuscon, Miami and Las Vegas – to speak on behalf of the MDA.
He and his parents, Claire and Phil Foster, from Concord, go to conventions and events held by MDA’s many sponsors, including Harley Davidson, Lowe’s and Citgo.
And does he speak?
“Yes, yes, ma’am, I speak,” Bryson says in his polite drawl. “I say, ‘Keep up the good work and keep going, because we have to find a cure.’”
Bryson, 13, has Duchenne muscular dystrophy; he was diagnosed at age 5. Duchenne muscular dystrophy involves muscle weakness that eventually affects all muscles. Most muscular diseases shorten the life span.
“The whole respiratory system is what’s of concern. If someone with muscular dystrophy gets a virus or flu, that is tough because they don’t have the respiratory muscles to fight that off,” said Mike Blishak, MDA’s community programs senior vice president.
Duchenne typically affects only boys, he said.
“If a youngster had Duchenne dystrophy in 1950, he’d be lucky to live to 13, roughly,” he said.
But with technology, better understanding of the disease and preventive medicine, Blishak said young men are now living double and sometimes triple what they did 60 years ago.
“The prognosis has gotten better,” he said.
Bryson used to be what his dad called a “toe-walker,” keeping balance on his toes. He had a procedure done in 2011 to try to fix his mobility issues, but it didn’t go well. Bryson permanently lost his balance on his feet and now gets around in a motorized wheelchair.
“There are challenges everywhere you turn,” said his dad, Phil. “But he’s never, ever, ever quit.”
Indeed, Bryson remains a very busy seventh-grader at Harold E. Winkler Middle School.
He dreams of someday being a sports broadcaster, a football head coach or the starting quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals.
And Bryson showed his broadcasting chops Labor Day weekend on the nationally televised annual MDA Show of Strength Telethon, which he helped host.
He got to introduce the Backstreet Boys, Austin Mahone and Luke Bryan. The nearly 2-hour-long telethon raised more than $59 million for the organization, which funds support groups, clinics, summer camps and research on muscular diseases.
Bryson first publicly spoke at a Charlotte-Mooresville MDA awards banquet in 2008.
“I just wanted to go up and speak and say how MDA had helped me,” he said.
He’s been loving talking to people about awareness and support for the MDA ever since.
“His presence, his exuberance – it impacts people,” said the Rev. David Snow, the campus pastor at The Church at The Way in Concord, which the Fosters attend.
“I’ve been in ministry over 30 years, and I don’t know that I’ve ever had a kid that’s as comfortable with the microphone,” Snow said. “You put him onstage, and it’s just amazing. He just comes alive, it’s just so natural.”
Bryson’s parents said he’s spoken in front of thousands of people.
“There’s times I get nervous – not nervous, just anxious to get on the stage – and when I’m on the stage, they can barely get me off,” Bryson said.
MDA saw the natural talent in Bryson after interviewing him.
“There was no doubt when we left beautiful Concord, North Carolina, that he was the right man for the job,” Blishak said.
“When I first met Bryson in December of 2011, he just struck me initially as just a very smart, polite, terrific young man with a great sense of humor, and it was just evident his love of life and love of people – and love of everything,” he said.
While Bryson’s two-year stint for MDA is coming to a close at the end of this year, he still plans to be active with the organization.
He and Blishak have hope for a cure.
“It used to be that only pediatricians saw boys with Duchenne, and now regular doctors or neurologists are getting to see young adults,” Blishak said. “This is a huge advancement, and a wonderful indication of more good things to come.”
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