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Donor Story

Autism Awareness is Boston Marathon Runner’s Mission

Marjan Faraidooni, from the United Arab Emirates, is running the 2019 Boston Marathon to raise funds for the Lurie Center for Autism, whose expert care has impacted the family of a friend.

Autism Awareness is Boston Marathon Runner’s Mission

The flat streets and predictably hot climate of Dubai don’t align with what runners experience in the Boston Marathon, but that doesn’t deter Marjan Faraidooni from training in her home city, Dubai, 7,800 miles away from Boston.

A public health graduate of Boston University (BU), Marjan knows the terrain of the marathon route and understands the unpredictability of New England weather. But what really helps her focus on training for the famously tough race is that she is running this year’s marathon with a mission — to raise awareness for autism and support for Mass General’s Lurie Center for Autism.

Marjan saw the life-altering impact that a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has on a family …

Marjan, 40, is running on behalf of Hamza Dahlan, the seven-year-old son of her friend, Malik Dahlan, a Harvard University graduate she met while attending BU two decades ago. Marjan saw the life-altering impact that a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has on a family, and the challenges that parents, like Malik and his wife, Sarah, face in securing appropriate resources. She also felt it was important for every “inclusive society” to understand the special qualities of individuals like Hamza and to support them and their families as they work to ensure that they have access to opportunities and support in their communities.

Marjan decided to run for Mass General’s Lurie Center knowing how important it is to Malik, Sarah and Hamza and the nearly 3,000 other families who rely on their expert care.

Advocate for Autism Awareness

Malik and Sarah feel fortunate to have Marjan as a champion for autism awareness and Hamza, and to have the Lurie Center as their family’s guardian angel.

Autism is viewed as a taboo in the Middle East, according to Sarah. “Considering that, we’re fortunate Marjan wants to help,” she says. “She’s one of the most influential women in the Middle East. For her to help drive awareness there for autism is amazing.”

Read about one family’s efforts to extend the Lurie Center for Autism’s global reach.

Indeed, the online news service Arabian Business last year named Marjan as one of the “50 most influential women in the Arab World.” After earning a bachelor’s degree in physiology and a master’s in public health at Boston University, she returned home to the United Arab Emirates in 2001 to work as an instructor at a college and then held various strategy positions in healthcare and finance.

Five years ago, Marjan landed a key role in her country’s hosting of a world expo. As senior vice president of legacy development for Expo 2020 Dubai, she helps ensure that investments in infrastructure and redevelopment of the Expo site create lasting economic and social benefits for the city.

Having already run six marathons, including New York in 2014 and London in 2015, Marjan didn’t hesitate when Malik and Sarah offered her the opportunity to raise funds for the Lurie Center through a charity entry to the Boston Marathon.

With determination, she enjoys training for the Boston Marathon to relieve the stress of work, and hopes her efforts will raise awareness of autism in Dubai. “I just want to help the center and my friends’ child, Hamza. I also want people to understand that families that have been touched by autism have many challenges to deal with, including the very difficult one of social insensitivities. I believe the first step in helping families is putting in an effort to understand what it entails. A little bit of understanding and compassion can go a long way and will pave the way for a truly inclusive society.”

Relying on Philanthropy

The Lurie Center for Autism relies on philanthropy to provide multidisciplinary care, an expensive endeavor for which insurers cover less than 50 percent of the costs. The Center’s evaluation and treatment plans combine the perspectives of physicians, psychologists and nurses, along with those of educational and behavioral consultants, speech-language pathologists and physical and occupational therapists.

Hamza went from not responding to his name to now speaking, reading, writing and attending a mainstream school.

After years of research, Sarah credits this multidisciplinary approach with properly diagnosing children and then putting into action comprehensive treatment and intervention. Hamza went from not responding to his name to now speaking, reading, writing and attending a mainstream school.

There’s nothing like a Lurie Center in England or the Gulf for that matter, Sarah says. That’s why she and Malik have started the Autism Center of Excellence in the U.K., a transatlantic partnership with the Lurie Center and Mass General. The new center’s aim is to replicate the Lurie Center’s commitment to care: a multidisciplinary approach for the patient and extensive support for families that includes connections with local charities. “It’s a big task for parents to pick up the pieces and treat their children,” she says. “We’re not experts at the end of the day.”

The center is about “halfway” to opening, Sarah says, and has benefited from occasional visits from Mass General researcher Nicole Zurcher Wimmer, PhD, who is a “Hamza Scholar” thanks to the generous support of the family.

Please consider supporting 2019 Boston Marathon runner Marjan Faraidooni.

For more information about how you can donate to the Lurie Center for Autism, please contact us.

John Hancock-Mass General Boston Marathon® Partnership

Mass General is proud to be an official Partner of John Hancock in the Marathon Non-Profit Program. The Non-Profit Program provides over 1,000 Boston Marathon® bibs to select non-profit organizations throughout the community, which provides organizations with a significant fundraising opportunity. Last year, John Hancock Non-Profit Runners raised over $10M for their causes. Learn more about our John Hancock-Mass General Boston Marathon partnership that continues to provide significant support for our three signature causes: Pediatric Cancer, Emergency Medicine, and Home Base.

by
Albert McKeon
April 6, 2019