Founders’ Week continues with Donald A. Grilli of Cohasset, Massachusetts. Grilli retired in 1999 from a 32-year career at Johnson & Johnson, including 10 years as the head of its orthopedic and neural surgery division. He served as treasurer of NPF’s board of trustees (now the board of directors) from 2005 to 2009.
Why did you get involved with NPF?
I got connected through my wife. My son, Steve, developed psoriasis at the age of 12. It was severe over most of his body. This was in the ’70s. My wife, Lesley, is a nurse. She heard of NPF and went to some meetings.
Years later, when Gail Zimmerman was the president, Les and Gail had some conversations, and Gail asked, “Do you think Don would be interested in coming on our board?” Gail thought my background in business and finance would be a good fit, and I ended up joining in 2005. I became the treasurer. I felt that this was a way that I could make a contribution and help my son get better with this horrible disease.
My son went away to college, to Indiana University. His first time home in his freshman year was Thanksgiving. I remember him getting off the plane, walking down the aisle to us, and he was covered with psoriasis from the stress of school. It’s not something you forget.
When I joined the board, nobody talked about psoriasis. People were still trying to hide it. We were trying to get more awareness, trying to get more support, but it was difficult to rally people.
And then one thing came along that changed everything, and that’s the biologics. You can’t turn on the TV today without hearing about psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. When biologics were introduced, psoriasis was a good disease to experiment with because you could see the results. This helped the Foundation because it created a greater awareness of psoriasis. People were talking about it. People were no longer embarrassed about it. It’s accepted today as something that’s treatable and not something to be frightened of.
Which NPF activities do you enjoy?
My role was more the board function. Les was involved in the other functions, the conferences and meetings. She’s involved more from a patient’s perspective. I’ve taken a more supportive role. Together, we went to some of the Capitol Hill programs where we talked to our congressmen about psoriasis and funding for research.
What would you tell someone who is thinking of joining NPF?
There are so many changes going on in medicine today that the opportunity to control this disease and understand its causes is better than ever. NPF will serve as an excellent source for making you aware of what you can expect your child will deal with with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis (PsA).
Other interviews in this series