Representing BioNews and the Rare Disease Community at the MM+M Awards

Columnist Matt Lafleur shares an unforgettable experience with his colleagues in New York

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by Matthew Lafleur |

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Last week, a college buddy of mine, Max Harrington, filled in as my caregiver so that I could take a memorable trip to New York City.

We were there to attend the annual MM+M Awards, which honor achievements in healthcare marketing and communications. I was joined by several fellow colleagues of BioNews, the parent company of Friedreich’s Ataxia News, where as well as being a columnist, I serve as culture coordinator.

Twenty minutes before leaving our hotel for the big event, Max and I realized that neither of us knew how to tie a necktie. We were supposed to meet my co-workers in the lobby, and all of us were to dress uncomfortably formally. In a panic, I texted my colleague and good friend Ethan Ash, who is vice president of business development at BioNews, begging him for help. While I was doing that, I overheard my resourceful caregiver watching a YouTube video on how to tie a necktie. Problem solved.

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Ethan Ash and Matthew Lafleur, both dressed in suits and ties, pose before a publicity board at the 2022 MM+M Awards event. Matthew is seated in a wheelchair, and to his right, Ethan kneels. They are fist-bumping.

Ethan Ash, left, vice president of business development, and I try to look serious at the MM+M Awards in New York City on Oct. 6. (Courtesy of Erica Berger)

As the elevator doors opened on the first floor, most of our party were already waiting for us, each of them dressed impeccably. For a second, I felt the familiar wrath of impostor syndrome overtake me, something I’ve dealt with most of my life, perhaps as a result of being diagnosed with Friedreich’s ataxia at age 11. “What the heck am I doing here with all of these dapper, important people?” I wondered.

“Not today, insecurity,” I told myself, blocking the destructive thoughts from my mind. I reminded myself that I belonged there. Fake it till you make it, right?

Once everyone was together in the lobby, we all paraded a few blocks to the venue. In the spirit of New Orleans (I’m from Louisiana), our well-dressed second line moseyed past New York City food trucks and commuters. I didn’t envy those in our troop wearing high heels.

A close-up selfie of Jenn Powell and Matthew Lafleur at their dinner table at the MM+M Awards ceremony. Both are smiling broadly and elegantly dressed.

Brand and Marketing Manager Jenn Powell, who has multiple sclerosis, and I share a moment at the MM+M Awards in New York City on Oct. 6. (Courtesy of Jenn Powell)

When we arrived, most of the group climbed the red-carpeted stairs at the entrance. A staff member escorted me and my wheelchair to a side entrance that was closed to the general public. There, a ramp was crudely and steeply laid over a stoop. It was certainly inconvenient, and I pondered the general inaccessibility of the event, but was grateful for the staff’s efforts to include me.

I entered the main ballroom, where the awards ceremony was about to begin, and my insecurity surfaced again. I felt so out of place, so awkward. I wondered how others who use wheelchairs or other mobility aids would enter. As it turned out, it appeared I was the only one there in a wheelchair.

The nomination

BioNews was nominated this summer for an award in the Healthcare Consumer Media Brand category, thanks to our fiery and incomparable senior vice president of strategy and growth, Jen Loga. She thought it would be good publicity for the company and, like the rest of the staff, was shocked when she learned we were a finalist in that category.

A close-up selfie of Matthew Lafleur and Jen Loga at the dinner table at the MM+M Awards ceremony. Both are smiling broadly, and Jen rests her head on Matthew's left shoulder.

A selfie of me and Jen Loga, senior vice president of strategy and growth. (Courtesy of Jen Loga)

As soon as the nomination was announced, our BioNews founder, stalwart chief executive officer, and fellow Cajun, Chris Comish, hatched a plan. Not only would many of the executives at BioNews attend the gala, but also a handful of rare disease patients. After all, three out of four people working for BioNews have been diagnosed with a rare disease or are caregivers.

The awards

At our table, Ethan offered to bring me a Manhattan from the bar, which seemed appropriate. I drank my Manhattan in Manhattan while they announced the winner of the Healthcare Consumer Brand category. BioNews didn’t win, but our table did receive a bottle of Champagne later. I’d consider that a win.

At the BioNews table at the MM+M Awards ceremony, Kellie Benn, Brad Dell, and Matthew Lafleur sit next to one another. All are elegantly dressed, with Kellie wearing a black dress and a white necklace, Brad is in a tuxedo, and Matthew is in a suit and tie.

From left, Kellie Benn, vice president of content; Brad Dell, who’s director of community content and deaf, as well as having cystic fibrosis; and me. (Courtesy of Kellie Benn)

Getting to see some of my U.S.-based co-workers in real life instead of over video calls was a treasure. (Most of our staff work remotely.) We shared good food, bubbly Champagne, and lots of laughs.

While part of me still felt like a burden next to all of these sophisticated, well-dressed, and able-bodied people, I reminded myself that people like me with rare diseases make up much of the audience that those nominated for an MM+M award intend to reach. So despite my discomfort, I did belong there.

If I go again next year, perhaps there’ll be more people in wheelchairs. While BioNews didn’t win, perhaps the fact that we brought people from the rare disease community to the event had a lasting impact.

In the end, it was certainly worth dealing with the insecurity.

It was a little victory.

A group photo in front of the publicity board at the MM+M Awards ceremony shows the few BioNews staff members who attended with their guests, 12 in all.

A few BioNews employees at the MM+M Awards in New York City on Oct. 6. We deliver medical information to the rare disease community and look suave doing it. (Courtesy of Erica Berger)

Note: Friedreich’s Ataxia News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Friedreich’s Ataxia News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Friedreich’s ataxia.


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