I grew up in the Information Age, and I must admit, it’s still difficult to form a meaningful friendship over the Internet—and rarer yet, to find a group of friends willing to support me when I need them the most. This is the goal of Beyond My Battle (BMB), a Saratoga Springs-based nonprofit that provides emotional support, education, resources and awareness to people with chronic illnesses and their families.
“Isolation’s a huge problem for people with lifelong, threatening disabilities,” says Martel Catalano, one of BMB’s two cofounders. Catalano was diagnosed at age 13 with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare genetic condition that causes visual impairments, and could lead to permanent blindness. “Even the littlest thing can trigger anxiety, fear, anger or sadness,” says Catalano. “For me, it could be tripping in public or missing a handshake that triggers the thought, ‘Is my vision getting worse?’” She first met her cofounder, Nell Pritchard, in 2016, and the two hit it off immediately. Like Catalano, Pritchard also suffers from a rare genetic disorder: cystic fibrosis, a disease that attacks the lungs and one’s ability to breathe—and which, seven years ago, forced her to have a double lung transplant.
So they set out to create an on- and offline support system for those suffering from a range of chronic illnesses. “The natural human response when undergoing stress is to seek social interaction,” Catalano says. “But oftentimes, there’s a wall that gets built up. We have this stigma that we’re causing people pain or that we’ll be a burden or pitied by them.” For this reason, BMB also provides support for friends, families and caretakers of the affected. “It can be difficult to understand the emotions of—and therefore support—a loved one who’s living with a chronic disease or disability,” says Pritchard. And because a major component of BMB is online, there’s really no limit to who can be reached.
Besides its growing network in the US, BMB has also welcomed new participants from South Africa, India, France and Canada. Although there are no restrictions on who can participate, for now, the lingua franca is English. That could change soon, though: Catalano and Pritchard just wrapped up an online crowd-funding campaign, blowing past their initial goal of $13,000 in just five days. (Their follow-up goal of $19,000 was surpassed within a week.) Even the cofounders of BMB were surprised by the outpouring of interest and monetary support—but I’m not. With such an amazing idea to their name, I can’t help but feel like they’ve started a revolution. One that will make Saratoga Springs—and the world—a better place.