Yesterday, Liz Birt, one of the original Mercury Moms, was killed in a car accident when the car she was traveling in was struck by a pickup truck.
Liz was a Chicago lawyer who became an autism activist after her son was diagnosed with regressive autism. She was one of the founding members of Safe Minds and founded Medical Interventions for Autism, a medical research charity and was on the board of A-CHAMP. She testified before Congress on the subject of mercury in vaccines and was one of the subjects of David Kirby’s book, Evidence of Harm. Indeed much of the information that Kirby shared in his book was uncovered by Liz.
She also was a proponent of estate planning for parents of ASD children and worked with parents so that their vulnerable children would be well cared for in the event of their untimely death.
She is someone toward whom I feel a great debt of gratitude for all that she has done. Parents like me who are new to the battle are only able to have a voice because we are standing on the shoulders of Giants. Liz Birt is one of those Giants.
Today Safe Minds offered this in memory of Liz:
It is with great sorrow that we announce the passing of our dear friend and colleague Liz Birt. Liz was a co-founder of the "Coalition for SafeMinds" and was an active board member of the organization. She also founded Medical Interventions for Autism, was a founding board member of the National Autism Association, co-founder and board member of A-Champ and helped with the development of Extreme Sports Camp in Aspen, Colorado. Liz was a principal author of Mercury in Medicine, the staff report released by the House Government Reform Committee in 2003 that for the first time brought together the background and evolving science concerning the toxicity of mercury used as a preservative especially in childhood vaccines.
Liz's son Matthew was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder in 1996. She dedicated her life to finding out what caused his disorder and what could be done to help him and the thousands of children who suffer with autism spectrum disorders today. Her brilliant mind, strong spirit and passion for truth will be missed by everyone in the autism community. May her commitment and dedication to serving children with autism live on in those whose lives she touched.
Liz, a corporate and tax attorney by training lived in Wilmette, Illinois with her three children Sarah, Matthew and Andrew Lopez. She was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, where she is survived by her two brothers and her father. All of Liz's friends and colleagues at SafeMinds send our deepest condolences to her family, friends and loved ones. Liz was a force of nature and a shining example of love for her family and friends. We will all miss her.
Please share your thoughts and memories of Liz here.
This from David Kirby:
It’s been a full day since I received news of Liz Bert’s terrible passing, and it has been hard to put my thoughts into words.
I first met Liz on a frosty January morning, in Washington, in 2003. She was there to join the deafening protest to the so-called Lilly Rider – and it was my very first encounter with the mercury moms and dads of America.
It was very cold and Liz was very busy. I asked her what she thought needed to be done, in terms of proving the case against thimerosal. “We need to get our hands on the raw VSD data, right away,” she said. “I won’t stop fighting until we do!”
I had no idea at the time what “raw VSD data” meant, but it sure did sound important. And I realized at that moment that Liz was one of the toughest, smartest, most dogged mothers I had ever met.
What I didn’t realize, just yet, however, was how sweet, pure, true and generous Liz Birt was. That would come a bit later, when I traveled to spend time with her and her family outside Chicago, when she traveled to the east cost, just to be interviewed for the book, and when she would call me late at night, while I was writing, just to make sure I was ok, and to tell me that one day, the book would be finished, and it would have an impact.
There would be no book without Liz, perhaps no thimerosal controversy at all, or certainly not the level of debate that we see today.
When I last saw Liz, not long ago, she looked and seemed so happy. She told me she was happier than she had felt in a long time. She had the confident look of someone who anticipates nothing less than full victory, and unquestioned vindication.
And now she has been stolen away like a precious, bejeweled necklace, before the final fruits of her extraordinary labor were fully realized. Everyone who knew Liz is left in shock, mourning, and disbelief. It doesn’t make any sense that someone who was so very alive is no longer alive at all. It is crushingly cruel and unspeakably sad. Her children, especially, deserve our love and support.
I will always miss Liz. She was unlike anyone I have ever met – an inexhaustible fighter in an very taxing battle. If there is a direct line from Heaven to the US Congress, you can bet that Liz will be on the line, constantly.
I am trying to contact the publisher to see if there is time to pay tribute to her in the paperback edition, though I fear it may be too late. My heart goes out to Liz Birt’s family, and to everyone who knew and loved her.
Peace on Earth for 2006
Chicago Sun Times on Liz Birt: Wilmette lawyer, autism activist killed
Aspen Times on Liz Bert:
Accident victim was an advocate for autistic kids
By John Colson
December 30, 2005
Elizabeth Birt, who died in a two-car collision near Aspen on Wednesday, "was not just another tourist" but a nationally known advocate for autistic children, according to letters to The Aspen Times.
Birt, 49 - a Chicago-area attorney with three children, one of whom is autistic - had been cited in congressional reports on autism and in a book on the subject, her associates say.
A resident of Wilmette, Ill., she was in Aspen visiting friends this week. The 2006 Ford Taurus she was in - which her fiance, Steven Felt, 52, also of Wilmette, was driving - allegedly ran a red turn-light at Brush Creek Road and Highway 82, into the path of an oncoming truck.
The Colorado State Patrol does not believe either alcohol or speeding played a role in the accident.
The occupants of the truck, Mary and Blake Williams of Snowmass Village, both 31, suffered minor injuries in the collision and drove themselves to Aspen Valley Hospital later in the day.
Badly injured in the wreck was the driver's son, Michael Felt, 13, who was sitting in the back seat of the Taurus. All three were taken to Aspen Valley Hospital, and Michael was transferred to Children's Hospital in Denver, where he was in critical condition Thursday evening.
Friends of Birt and the Felt family who contacted The Aspen Times about the accident said the impact of the truck crushed Michael's chest. He also suffered a broken thigh, friends said, and there are concerns about possible brain damage.
Several e-mails from associates of Birt referred to her work in the field of autism.
According to the letters, which have come from various parts of the country, Birt was a founder of two national organizations dealing with autism - Medical Interventions for Autism, a nonprofit investigating the links between inflammatory bowel disease, immune system disorders, viruses from vaccines and autism; and an advocacy group called SafeMinds, for which she was general counsel.
A book by David Kirby titled "Evidence of Harm," about the presence of mercury in vaccines and its theoretical link to autism, profiled her life and work, according to a letter from Kara Friedman of Chicago.
"Liz is a hero in the autism community worldwide," said Becky Simpson, secretary of the Maryland Autism Recovery Coalition. "She is greatly loved, and she will be greatly missed."
John Colson's e-mail address is email@example.com
From Lenny Schafer:
Liz Birt, Down To The Wire
This is a snap shot of what this woman was doing for us and our children down to the wire to the end of her life. Here she is, a few weeks ago, pleading the cause of autism in her home state.
November 17, 2005
Illinois General Assembly
KidCare, Human Services Subcommittee 94th General Assembly
Testimony of Elizabeth Birt
Thank you for convening this hearing today regarding the issues facing Illinois families with autistic children. Because of the need for full disclosure and transparency regarding all issues before the Illinois General Assembly and the grave importance of this matter and its implications for public policy I would like to start off my stating that I have no financial conflicts of issue regarding autism, other than as the parent of a severely affected child, and that I receive no benefit directly or indirectly from pharmaceutical companies. I strongly urge that you require all individuals providing testimony to your subcommittee including those present today and those who have testified in the past to fully disclose all conflicts of interest.
I am the parent of an 11 year old child who was developmentally normal until he received two vaccinations, a thimerosal containing Hib and an MMR at approximately 15 months of age. Prior to his receipt of these vaccinations, my son could count to ten and said many words such as “mamma”, “daddy”, “ball”, “go”, Sasaa for his sister’s name; he pointed at objects of interests and played games like peek a boo and hide and seek. He loved to be held and had excellent eye contact. He had a history of ear infections but no serious medical problems. After the receipt of these immunizations, he ran a high fever. I gave him Tylenol as directed by his pediatrician. After the vaccination, he developed a rash on the trunk of his body. I
didn’t think that anything was seriously wrong and believed that all was normal with my adorable little boy. Within a few weeks of these immunizations my son developed chronic diarrhea; at first I believed it was the babysitter’s fault for giving him too much juice. As the weeks and months went by his gastrointestinal problems worsened. He also stopped acquiring language and insidiously he slipped away from me. We initially thought that he had hearing problems and had tubes inserted into his ears. We waited and watched and hoped. My son’s condition only worsened. He
started screaming uncontrollably and rubbing his stomach. It was like watching a fire die out ember by ember and there was no professional who could tell me how my child who had been so full of life and interactive was now in a world of his own.
Eventually my son received a diagnosis of PDD/NOS from a physician at Rush. The physician assured me that because my son still had skills left like stacking blocks that he would be “fine” and recommended speech therapy. This therapy was not covered by his father’s insurance company so we picked up the cost personally. My son then stopped sleeping through the night. He would awaken every night at around 3:00 A.M. screaming, smearing feces over himself, the carpet and walls. It was in one simple word “hell”. My husband and I took him to see a physician, Dr. Bennett Leventhal at
University of Chicago who diagnosed him as autistic. I will never forget that day. I had my son’s medical records with me from Dr. Michael Chez a neurologist, and asked him why his IGA was so low. IGA is the first line of defense in a person’s gastrointestinal and mucosal tract. I was told point blank that it wasn’t important. I asked him about my son’s behavioral issues such as rubbing his stomach, lying on the floor with his hands pressed against his stomach, and night time screaming. He didn’t say anything except it was perhaps a part of his autism-in other words his behavior was a psychotic result of his autism. I left the appointment feeling a sense of doom and that there was nothing that could be done for my son except to put him into an institution. It was one of the worst days of my life.
My son’s condition began to deteriorate further; he developed shingles, was chronically sick, had “shiners” under his eyes. Exasperated by the lack of medical care I set out on a journey to find out what exactly was wrong with my child. This journey led Matthew to the only treatment available for his chronic diarrhea. The care and compassion of a physician at the Royal Free Hospital in London, England by the name of Dr. Andrew Wakefield. His group had identified in a small study published in The Lancet in 1998 a group of 12 children who had been referred to the Royal Free Hospital by their local pediatricians. Much has been made of this study and of Dr. Wakefield’s work. You should know that Leo Kanner, the individual who first identified autism relied only on 11 case reports. I have included Dr. Wakefield’s CV with your handouts; he has published 133 peer reviewed studies. This is not the work of a “mad scientist”; this is the work of a dedicated researcher who trusted parents when they told him the story of their child’s illness.
To my astonishment, the children in Dr. Wakefield’s original study had a history of normal development and then lost language, social skills and had chronic intestinal problems following the receipt of an MMR vaccination. For me, it was the only path I could follow to find relief for my child. I took him to London and there he was actually worked up clinically for his gastrointestinal disease. He was seen by seven doctors including Dr. John Walker-Smith who is regarded as the foremost pediatric gastroenterologist at that time in the world. Using a simple xray which could have been ordered at any hospital in this country, the doctors found that my son was completely constipated. The mass in his colon was the size of a small cantaloupe. He was scoped and found to have inflammatory bowel disease and put on appropriate medication for his physical condition. Immediately he started sleeping through the night. His non stop diarrhea abated and he was a much happier child.
Unfortunately, for Matthew his gastrointestinal disease has worsened and he is now on immunosuppressive treatment because he developed lesions in his esophagus. He has had several grand mal seizures. He has documented measles virus infection in his intestine and cerebral spinal fluid that matches the vaccine strain. In addition, his body is unable to detoxify. He has antibodies to myelin basic protein which acts as a conductor for nerves in his brain. His immune system is dysregulated; he has high levels of inflammatory cytokines. He is currently being evaluated for kidney stones. In short, his body is a train wreck.
Matthew, given all of these physical problems is a sweet little boy; he is affectionate and likes to be with other children. He is mischevious; he knows the rules in the house likes to push them. He is not mentally retarded; he understands everything that is said to him; he can not however, communicate verbally and relies on his caregivers, sign language and guttural sounds to get by. He has learned how to snow ski through a program offered by Challenge Aspen and has participated in a camp for autistic children founded by myself and another parent in Colorado called Extreme Sports Camp. At this camp Matthew has learned to rock climb, ice skate, and loves white water rafting. To see his smile at camp is worth a million dollars.
What children and parents of autistic children need is enormous. There is no respite care; no medical care; and the insurance companies pay nothing for services unless you are clever in coding the claims. Our children have behavioral issues that must be managed but they are also chronically ill. We don’t even know how many children and their families desperately need services not just for today but for the future. The cost of lifetime care for an autistic child in unknown but some estimates peg the national cost to be 7 TRILLION DOLLARS. There are no group homes to put these children in when their parents can not care for them at home. My fear as parents age they will take the life of their child and their own. This has already happened in England.
I am here today not just for my son but for every family in Illinois who has been affected by the devastating disorder. I worked for over two years investigating the relationship between autism and neurodevelopmental disorders as an attorney for the House Committee on Government Reform. My job was to review thousands of pages of subpoenaed documents from our federal health agencies and pharmaceutical companies. The sad story is laid out in a book called “Evidence of Harm” by David Kirby; I urge everyone to read this book.
In 2004 the Institute of Medicine issued a report stating that there was no credible evidence of a link between neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism, and vaccines AND THAT NO FURTHER RESEARCH SHOULD BE CONDUCTED. This study has been highly criticized because it relied solely upon epidemiological studies that were questionable. The committee did not include the studies of researchers including Dr. Mady Hornig at Columbia University whose work on mice with autoimmune problems found that these mice exhibited obsessive compulsive disorders and had brain abnormalities similar to autistic individuals after the administration of thimerosal containing vaccines. It did not examine the presence of measles virus in the cerebral spinal fluid and not in healthy controls by Dr. Wakefield. It did not consider the work of Dr. Richard Deth of Northeastern University and Dr. Jill James of University of Arkansas demonstrating the ability of thimerosal at low levels to disrupt important metabolic pathways in cells nor the observation of these abnormalities in autistic children. In fact, none of these researchers were invited to present their findings.
One study in Denmark the IOM relied on reported an increase in the number of individuals diagnosed with autism following the removal of thimerosal containing vaccines from the vaccination schedule. What was not stated in the press and report is that the reason for the increase is that the Danish switched methods of counting autistic individuals to include both outpatient and inpatient cases. The famous CDC study authored by Thomas Verstraeten went through at least 5 “generations” of data manipulation. The author himself wrote in Pediatrics in April of 2004 that his study “does not state that we found evidence of an association, as a negative study would. It does state, on the contrary, that additional study is recommended, which the conclusion to which a neutral study must come.” The raw data from this study has apparently been destroyed and the CDC has denied access to the VSD database to independent researchers. I have personally as counsel to SAFEMINDS and for the Committee on Government Reform sought access with appropriate patient confidentiality safeguards to the database since 2001. The debate recently reached the floor of the United States Senate where Senators Lieberman and Harkin called for access to the data. In addition, this year an independent panel convened by the Institute of Medicine issued a report entitled “Vaccine Safety Research Data Access and Public Trust”. This report criticizes the CDC’s handling of this data which was bought by the taxpayers and questions why the data was moved to an independent non governmental entity in 2001 which would not only coincide with the removal of thimerosal containing vaccines from routine immunization schedules but remove it from FOIA. Many in Congress as well as respected scientists from all parts of this nation are urging that further research in this area continue; those scientists include two former heads of the National Institute of Enviornmental Health.
The “good” news is that despite this pronouncement by the IOM research is ongoing. Dr. Thomas Burbacker’s research demostrating that thimerosal in the brains of primates converted to inorganic mercury at a much greater rate than methylmercury (fish mercury) is in Phase II of funding despite the efforts of the federal government to stop this research. Phase I of this study concluded that “Knowledge of the toxicokinetics and developmental toxicity of thimerosal is needed to afford a meaningful assessment of the developmental effects of thimerosal-containing vaccines.” This study was published in Enviornmental Health Perspectives, an NIH peer reviewed publication in August of 2005. The IOM had full access to Dr. Burbaker’s research during the time they wrote their report. They never asked him to present his research.
Studies have been recently published demonstrating a breakdown of myelin in children with developmental disorders and just how toxic thimerosal is at minute quantities. I have included them in your handouts. As these studies are released the CDC is recommending that every pregnant woman and every child at 6 and 23 months receive a flu vaccine knowing that there is not enough manufacturing capacity to provide this vulnerable population with a thimerosal free vaccine. This action is at best negligent; to me it is immoral.
So how does my statement impact your committee? You have a lot of work to do to understand the scope of this problem and be assured that if vaccines are implicated that no one will help you pay for it. Today, there are ten bills before the Congress which would give blanket immunity to drug companies for vaccine injuries if the Secretary of HHS declares that the drug is necessary for a pandemic or epidemic. Further, if a citizen is injured they may not be able to access the Vaccine Compensation Act, as broken as it is, unless the Secretary of HHS allows them to do so. All meetings on vaccine matters will not be subject to FACA or FOIA; in other words all of this will be in complete secrecy.
One of the reasons that this legislation is being urged is the spin that liability issues have forced the manufacturers out of business. This is simply not the case and has been refuted in published reports. In fact, last year during the presidential election, Dr. Tony Faucci of the NIAID was quoted by the AP as stating “But that is only a very small part of the problem (liability for manufacturers)…More significant, are the low-profit margin vaccines provide, unpredictable demand and the complexity of the manufacturing process… The fragility of the vaccine enterprise is an issue that has been present for decades”. So now why is it all of a sudden a problem for the manufacturers? The answer is money and the more that the manufacturers can close off the liability exposure for products then the better. The only remaining hope for families of children who were lucky enough to know of the Vaccine Compensation Act’s three year statute of limitations from date of first symptoms limitation is to opt out. There are thousands of cases pending in Vaccine Court that will probably not be heard in my lifetime. The only chance they have is our trial system and a state court.
I believe in the concept of herd immunity; I support a vaccine program that is grounded in credible science; I believed in that system when I vaccinated my children; after 8 years I do not believe that this is the case. There are too many unanswered questions and so many injured children.
I urge this subcommittee to recommend that autism is a public health emergency in Illinois and to ask the Governor to declare it so. I urge Attorney General Lisa Madigan to utilize the talents of her staff to gain full access to the VSD. I urge this subcommittee to develop a comprehensive plan to identify affected children, provide meaningful support to their families; and to sit down with parents at the table and strategize on the best possible living arrangements for the children who are severely affected.
There is hope; I have included in your handouts an article recently published in the San Francisco Chronicle about a child who received appropriate medical and educational intervention for his “autism”; he has recovered and no longer has this diagnosis. Researchers at UC Davis Mind Institute, Mass General and other prestigious institutions are taking note and starting clinical studies to determine whether these treatments are effective. It may be that we have a constellation of “autisms” caused by not one gene but complex gene and environmental influences, including but not limited to vaccines.
We as a civilized society have an obligation to care for these children. If a portion of them were injured due to negligence on the part of federal health officials and pharmaceutical companies then so be it; what I have personally witnessed over the past eight years has been horrifying. I believe in our country and in the strength of its determination to overcome adversity. We must work together to solve this problem; I stand ready to help in any manner with the work of this committee.
Founder, Medical Interventions for Autism Founder, SAFEMINDS Board Member
A-CHAMP Board Member NAA
CNN story on Autism featuring Liz:
Uncovering autism's mysteries
Liz Birt sits with her autistic son Matthew, 9, on the stairs of their home in Illinois. Birt is very active with parents groups that believe vaccines cause autism.
From Diana Cregar:
The first time I met Liz Birt was at a private dinner party on the eve of the Pontiac BioMedical Conference on Autism in April of 2002, at the home of Dr. Vicky Debold, an RN and at the time was a Professor at the University of Michigan School of Nursing. Vicky believes her son Sam's injuries; autism, leaking gut, and other physical symptoms, were caused by his MMR vaccination. Dr. Andrew Wakefield who was performing intestinal scopes on Sam and Matthew, Liz's son also attended. It was a very lovely and comfortable evening that forever changed the course of my profession.
Liz Birt (and Dr. Yazbak) were the first contacts I made as I started investigating the link between thimerosal and autism way back in the summer of 2001. It was just weeks before 9-11 and a full year and a half before the infamous Eli Lilly rider that last week, in the new and improved version, returned in a Conference Report tucked into the Department of Defense Appropriation Bill that has now been signed into law.
We sat together through congressional hearings in the bowels of the Rayburn building as we all watched a 2.48 relative risk factor wash out to no risk. It has been a long and heartfelt battle. Janice and I worked with Liz Birt and Beth Clay to obtain the Vaccine Safe Datalink (VSD) data, but as documented in Evidence of Harm, the CDC restrictions to access and additional cost of travel and fees prohibited the small Institute that I work in from doing any type of analysis of the data. Thanks to Liz Birt and David Kirby's telling, the general public is now learning how the VSD/Thomas
Verstraeten story goes.
These contacts and failures lead us to obtaining the California Department of Developmental Services (CA DDS) Client Development Evaluation Reports (CDER) intake data as the foundation for our autism prevalence time series maps. It was a step Liz helped us to take.
My thoughts and prayers go out to those who love her.
Dear Liz, the world is indeed a better place for you being in it.
I nominate Cameron Diaz to play Liz in the movie.
This letter was sent to Congressman Burton from Liz Birt:
...As you can probably tell from my comments I am extremely distrustful of individuals at CDC and FDA. They have a history of outright lying. In addition, when possible they engage in the distortion of facts to suit their purposes. Please know that I am committed to finding out the truth about the relationship of vaccines to neurodevelopmental disorders including autism. I am willing to work on any project that would be useful to your committee at any time without compensation. I feel that this work must be done for the children and their families.
Thank you for your support on this matter.
Advocate for autistic kids
As the mother of a child with the disorder, the attorney was a `relentless warrior' fighting for the rights of such youths
By Carlos Sadovi
Tribune staff reporter
Published December 31, 2005
When Elizabeth Birt's 2-year-old son, Matthew, was diagnosed with autism in 1996, she focused on the medical profession that she believed was not properly dealing with the disease.
She believed childhood vaccines were behind her son's disorder, which prompted her to lead a campaign as an advocate for autistic children. That campaign ultimately took her to Capitol Hill, said her ex-husband, Maurice Lopez.
From her home in Wilmette, Ms. Birt garnered enough interest in the cause that she was sought out by several congressmen to serve as an attorney for the House Committee on Government Reform.
While on the committee, she researched health-care issues affecting the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and co-wrote a congressional staff report, "Mercury in Medicines--Taking Unnecessary Risks," published in the Congressional Record in 2003.
Ms. Birt, 49, died Wednesday, Dec. 28, of injuries from a car accident outside Aspen, Colo., where she had property and was visiting friends for the holidays.
"She was a devoted mother who fought very hard for the rights of disabled children, and she never gave up on trying to make things better for autistic children and families of children with autism," Lopez said. "This rather small woman on her computer was able to move the world."
Ms. Birt, a native of Kansas City, Mo., founded the non-profit groups Medical Intervention for Autism and Coalition for Safe Minds. She along with several other mothers became known nationally as the "Mercury Moms" for their stance against thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative used in vaccines.
She was featured in David Kirby's book "Evidence of Harm--Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy" published in April.
On Friday, the National Autism Association prominently noted Ms. Birt's death on its Web site, and officials called her death a profound loss.
"Liz was not only a friend, but a hero as well," the association's posting said. "Her mission to find the truth for children diagnosed with autism has impacted all who share that goal. Blessed with a beautiful mind and dauntless courage, Liz has shown us what it is possible for us to achieve when our focus remains firmly upon the future of our children."
Along with her work as an advocate, Ms. Birt was a health-care attorney with Lebow & Malecki LLC in Chicago, where she worked for nearly three years, said Joan Lebow, her employer and friend for 12 years. Before working there, she served as an associate with the law firm Ross & Hardies. She began her legal career as an assistant general counsel to what is now Rush University Medical Center.
Ms. Birt worked as an insurance underwriter before moving to Chicago in 1990 to attend DePaul University School of Law, where she received a law degree and a doctorate in tax law. Ms. Birt stood apart from others because of her drive and sharp intellect, Lebow said.
"About 99.9 percent of the population would just be too lazy and self-involved to fight so hard and give up so much to the greater good," Lebow said. "It never daunted her. She knew she had to do something and she did it."
While she focused much of her time on her son Matthew, who will turn 12 on Jan. 14, she also had enough time for her other children, Andrew, 9, and Sarah, 13, Lopez said.
"She was a relentless warrior. She devoted her life to her children," Lopez said.
Ms. Birt also is survived by her father, James; and her brothers, Jim and George.
Visitation will be held Wednesday and a burial mass will be said Thursday in Kansas City, Mo.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Jan. 14 at St. Francis Xavier Church, 524 9th St., Wilmette.
Kansas City Star Obituary:
ELIZABETH ANN BIRT
A memorial fund has been established to honor Liz's memory and leadership in the fight for children suffering with autism: the Elizabeth Birt Memorial Fund for Truth and Love, at the Thoughtful House Center for Children, 3001 Bee Caves Road, Austin, TX 78746.
Liz was born August 10, 1956, in Kansas City, MO, the daughter of James G. "Gib" and Giovanna M. "Jane" Birt. She was educated at The Loretto Academy and Southwest High School, and earned her BA in business from the University of Tulsa, a J.D. and LL.M. from the DePaul School of Law. She was staff counsel for Rush-St. Luke's Hospital in Chicago, an associate with the law firm of Ross & Hardies, and most recently a sole practitioner in Chicago, specializing in tax, corporate and non-profit law.
Liz was a philanthropist and advocate for children with autism and related disorders. Her son Matthew was diagnosed with autism in 1996. At the time, little attention was paid to these children by the medical community, and there was little awareness about this disorder, now recognized as a national epidemic. Liz devoted herself to finding the cause and cure for autism, a passion that became her life's work. This personal journey to understand her son's condition led to her national leadership in the burgeoning movement among parents of autistic children for a better understanding and treatment of this disease.
Liz founded Medical Interventions for Autism, which funded research grants that led to early breakthroughs in treating some of the more severe symptoms associated with autism. In addition, Liz was a founding director of Coalition for SafeMinds, a leading national think tank and research sponsor devoted to understanding the cause and finding a cure for autism. She was also a founding director of the National Autism Association, sponsor of a recent conference that brought together scientists, clinicians, and parents in an effort to find answers that would help the children. Liz was also a founding director of A-CHAMP, a grassroots political action committee formed to educate and advocate for more money and services for children with autism and against efforts by the pharmaceutical industry to evade liability for injuries caused by vaccines. Liz served as staff counsel for a subcommittee of the Committee on Government Reform, chaired by Rep. Dan Burton (R-IL) and was one of the principal authors of the Committee's 2000 report Mercury in Medicine. That report summarized the science relating to the toxic effects of mercury, especially when used as a preservative in vaccines, to the developing brain and immune system, and exposed conflicts of interest and regulatory inaction and negligence on the part of the nation's agencies and institutions responsible for protecting children. She testified on several occasions before the Congress and state legislators about the dangers of mercury in vaccines about her own search for answers as to how government could have allowed, even mandated, injections of such a toxic substance into children, and a workable treatment for her son.
Liz's loss will be deeply felt by the autism community. A blog (www.nationalautismassociation.org) has been filling with pages of tributes to Liz and stories from parents recounting her tireless helpfulness to so many in anguish over a new diagnosis, or in search of treatments that would really work, or doctors that could provide help.
The memorial fund established at Thoughtful House has two objectives. First, it will support research into the causes of and treatment for autism and related disorders. Liz had been convinced from the beginning of her own investigations that science would eventually reveal the truth as to what caused her son's autism and treatments that would help the hundreds of thousands of other children, many of whom are locked in a sort of cognitive and communicative prison, as well as suffering from a range of gastrointestinal and metabolic symptoms. The fund will also help families in need pay for desperately needed clinical care.
Liz is survived by her three children, Andrew, Matthew, and Sarah; her father, James G. Birt; her two brothers, James E. Birt and George G. Birt; her aunts, Maria Bartocci and Barbara Birt; her uncle, Carlo Bartocci; her cousins, Cristina Bartocci, Margherita Timelin, Jeanne Snowden, and Jaci Birt; her nieces, Betsey Birt, Meredith Birt, and Alexa Birt; and her nephew, Tim Birt. (Arr; D.W. Newcomer's Stine & McClure Chapel, 816-931-7777).
Published in the Kansas City Star on 1/1/2006.
Update: Chicago Parent Magazine
Good-bye to Liz Birt
Editorials - February 2006
Liz DeCarlo/Chicago Parent
It is with great sadness we tell you that Evanston mom Elizabeth Birt died in a car accident late last year while vacationing in Colorado.
Birt, 49, the mother of Andrew, Matthew and Sarah was also a tireless advocate for autistic children, who elevated the level of medical debate about the disease across the country.
We featured Birt in the article "Mercury in Kids’ Vaccines," which ran in our August 2005 edition.
In 1996, Birt’s son, Matthew, was diagnosed with autism and whatever her personal and family struggles were, Birt also kicked into action.
In the past 10 years, Birt founded the Coalition for SafeMinds (Sensible Action for Ending Mercury-Induced Neurological Disorders), Medical Interventions for Autism and the National Autism Association. She also started the Xtreme Sports Camp, to give autistic children a chance to participate in sports rarely open to them by other means.
Birt was an attorney with a private practice in Wilmette. But it was her fight for Matthew and autistic children which frequently put her center stage in Washington, D.C. She fought to get mercury out of vaccines, something she believed was a primary cause of her son’s autism. Her efforts were chronicled in David Kirby’s book Evidence of Harm, released in April 2005.
It is a daunting time. The safety, health and education of our children are no longer local issues, they are global concerns. The dangers that face us, and our kids, can seem overwhelming. So, it is easier than ever to give up on change without even starting.
But Birt shows us that one person can make a difference just by asking questions.
The safety of vaccines is a long-standing controversy—one of the debates centers around whether or not the mercury-based preservative, thimerosal, used in many vaccines, causes autism. Many in the medical community say no scientific link has yet been proven. Advocates say that does not negate the link. Rather, it points to the need for more research.
When Birt first heard about the connection between autism and thimerosal, she knew nothing about it. She read everything she could find, requested government documents, studies and became convinced thimerosal was the cause of Matthew’s autism.
Armed with the information, Birt was not afraid to march into the middle of a political maelstrom and challenge the federal government, the public health systems, the medical communities and the pharmaceutical companies. She co-wrote a congressional staff report, "Mercury in Medicines—Taking Unnecessary Risks," published in the Congressional Record in 2003.
Birt fought hard. Not only did her hard work mirror that of an epic David vs. Goliath battle in D.C., but she also managed through her organizations to bring joy, hope and inpsiration to many families. She was generous with her time and compassion, often providing a shoulder to cry on for parents of newly diagnosed autistic children.
When Birt was interviewed by Chicago Parent, she proved a patient teacher, spending weeks on the phone and in person to explain the issues and history regarding mercury and its possible connection to autism and other childhood neurological disorders. She always found time to answer just one more question and the patience to muddle through a difficult topic with our reporter, our editors and fact checkers—many of whom were new to the topic.
Feisty and determined in her fight for autistic children, Birt was a divorced mother doing her best to raise three children—one of whom required much more effort than the average child. Yet, she still found the time and energy to become a leader in a fight she would rather not have been fighting.
She was a mom who, no matter how tired and discouraged she might be, still put one foot in front of the other each day to advocate for her son, Mathew. And as a result, so many others benefited. She is a role model for all of us and will be missed.