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Giving a Voice to Reflux

By John Kelly
Tuesday, March 29, 2005; Page C11

Sometime tonight, Ashlee Simpson will take to the stage at DAR Constitution Hall. You may remember her as the teenybopper songstress who outraged the nation after a flubbed performance on "Saturday Night Live" seemed to suggest she was lip-syncing.

Ashlee denied the charges, eventually explaining that she had reluctantly relied on vocal backing tracks because her voice had been ravaged by acid reflux.

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That's when Beth Anderson and Jan Burns took notice. The Maryland mothers run a support group called the Pediatric/Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association, or PAGER for short.

Beth and Jan both have kids with reflux, a medical condition in which acid and stomach contents wash back into the esophagus. Though an estimated 3.5 million U.S. children have reflux, it's not the sexiest ailment in the world. What it needs, they decided, is a face to go with the backwash.

And what better face than Ashlee Simpson's?

"It may have been a horrible moment in your life," they wrote to the pop star, "but we would like to assure you that it helped others. It helped teens who already have a diagnosis not to feel so alone and it helped some teens recognize that they need to see a doctor."

Their hope was that when Ashlee came to Washington she would do a news conference with some "GERDlings" (that is, kids with gastroesophageal reflux disease).

The singer's publicist told them that's not going to happen. Maybe when the tour is over, but right now Ashlee's reflux is so bad she's not supposed to talk except when she's on stage. (Don't you wish every pop star had the same restriction?)

I have my doubts about Ashlee Simpson's lip-syncing history, but you've got to hand it to Jan and Beth. They'll do whatever it takes to shine light on an ailment that has caused many families a lot of grief. The PAGER people even glommed on to me a few years ago, after I'd mentioned in an article that one of my daughters had reflux as a baby. Last year, Beth roped me into being a "celebrity" judge at a fundraising chili cook-off.

That's right, a chili cook-off to raise money for kids who vomit. Those reflux folks are known for their sense of humor. Beth said you have to have one when you're dealing with a constantly vomiting baby. Jan told me her "GERDMOM" personalized license plates should arrive any day now.

Will future generations refer to reflux as ASD: Ashlee Simpson's Disease? We'll have to wait and see. In the meantime, if you want info on the disorder, go to www.reflux.org.

All Systems Stop

A few weeks ago, I explored the preponderance of the word "luxury" when it comes to apartments and the word "solutions" when it comes to, well, just about any company founded in the past decade.

Readers took aim at another word that has spread like a bad case of athlete's foot.

"The appendage 'system' seems to be equally ubiquitous," wrote Pete Morelewicz of Washington. "Okay, I guess I could get used to someone referring to religion as a 'belief system.' But I refuse to call my mattress a 'sleep system.' I draw the line when 'system' is applied to something that doesn't even have any moving parts."

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