The Gianopoulos Family Fights the Good Fight
Fighting “4” Us was created by Andrea Gianopoulos, a person with CRPS, and a core group of friends who understood the physical and mental tolls of the syndrome. In the words of this socially-minded visionary, “Fighting “4” Us started with one goal: to help fight this beast called RSD and win. As executive director and founder of this organization, I believe that goal is possible,” Andrea states on the organization’s website (www.fighting4us.com).
Fighting “4” Us was the result of a few brainstorming sessions by college students in a dormitory lobby. This dynamic organization was raised to a new level when Andrea was charged with, and succeeded in, making it a tax-exempt organization as her final project for graduation from Hood College with a degree in Law and Society. Struggling with her debilitating RSD, she succeeded in making the fledgling association a legitimate entity with the federal government. A long process that usually requires multiple attempts, Andrea succeeded with the first application, and Fighting “4” Us was awarded 501(c)3 tax-exempt status in August 2005.
Fighting “4” Us was not just a hobby for Andrea, but rather a passion and purpose, as well as a source of strength and encouragement. Andrea’s mother, Leslie Gianopoulos, comments, “It kept her going when things were so bad she could hardly go on.” Unfortunately, as Andrea’s vision for the organization was becoming a reality, she passed away on February 11, 2009, after undergoing a ketamine-induced coma treatment. Andrea was only 26 years old. Her parents, Gus and Leslie Gianopoulos, and the Fighting “4” Us Board of Directors are now charged with fulfilling the organization’s mission. Although Andrea kept detailed records—her parents found volumes of handwritten notes (which would have been excruciating for Andrea to write) as well as extensive electronic files after her death—Andrea’s loss is still overwhelming from an operational as well as emotional perspective. Gus describes what it is like continuing without his daughter: “She was going to make it larger than it is. We are trying to keep it going, but it’s a struggle. We are doing the best we can without Andrea. It’s very hard because she’s not here, and keeping it going in her name is very difficult. But she would want us to, I really believe that,” he says.
A key charge of Fighting “4” Us is to help people with CRPS by providing a financial boost. Leslie explains: “She wanted to raise money and give it to a person with CRPS. Andrea was aware that other groups raising money for research, and she understood how important that was, but she wanted to raise money to give people that gift that they could use in any way they wanted. Whether it was to help pay a bill or to take their family to Hershey Park, Andrea wanted to make a donation so that people could just have a better day with no strings attached.” Through the organization’s fundraising efforts, Andrea and the Fighting “4” Us organization bestowed their first annual “Fighter of the Year” Award in 2008.
Gus and Leslie feel the best way to continue Andrea’s legacy and the work of Fighting “4” Us is to raise awareness and develop support for their flagship award, “Fighter of the Year,” and the new “Andrea L. Gianopoulos Memorial Scholarship.” The “Fighter of the Year” award will be given to a person with CRPS to “help them have a better day,” while the Memorial Scholarship will provide $1,000 for postsecondary education. Leslie expresses this scholarship’s importance to the Gianopoulos family: “This scholarship was set up to help a person with CRPS further his or her education, because that was so important to Andrea. She wanted to go to school since she was 5 years old. There were many nights I slept in the dorm room with her because she was in so much pain and didn’t want to be alone. But she was so determined. She never gave up.”
Both awards will be given in January 2010. Award applications have been slowly trickling into the organization, but both Leslie and Gus hope that with greater awareness, more people with CRPS can benefit from the funds. “The more people that know about Fighting “4” Us, the more that we can help them,” declares Gus.
It’s easy to see where Andrea got her dedication and persistence, although her parents would say otherwise. “People have said to me ‘you’ve done everything for Andrea and helped her get through.’ I’ve always said that Andrea got us through. It was her determination. There were times when her CRPS was so bad and she wanted to give up and she could barely stand it. But her overall attitude and her overall behavior was to just keep on fighting,” explains Leslie.
Just as Gus and Leslie are raising interest in Fighting “4” Us, their daughter was also intent on rallying others to the cause and increasing the membership as she notes in the organization’s mission, “Now the one thing missing from this organization is you. You are the reason we began this organization, and you are the reason why we will keeping it going…I truly believe this dream will come true, and with your help it will, and we will beat this disease known as RSD.” Powerful words and extraordinary vision from a leader gone too soon.