2006 CHRISTMAS SEALS - AMERICAN LUNG ASSOCIATION
TB fighters celebrate 100th
An annual fundraiser for Christmas Seals targets tuberculosis
The American Lung Association marks 100 years of Christmas Seals this year, with the cause -- to fight tuberculosis -- as critical as it was when the first seal was designed.
"Although the number of TB cases has decreased, Hawaii continues to lead the nation with the highest annual state incidence rate," said Dr. Jessie Wing, chief of the state Department of Health's TB Control Program.
Hawaii is a gateway to Asia and the Pacific and more than 80 percent of isle TB cases are found among foreign-born patients, she said.
A serious concern is a strain of extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis, XDR, reported in Asia and other regions of the world, Wing said.
It is resistant to most second-line TB drugs, making it virtually untreatable. "The importation of XDR into Hawaii is possible," Wing said. If that happens, she said, "it could significantly increase the morbidity and mortality of TB for patients and contacts."
Bertrand Kobayashi, the association's director of advocacy and partnerships, pointed out that Hawaii is one of the few states that provides free TB treatment for people without funds as a public health safety net to prevent spread of the infection.
The state hospital system maintains TB beds at Leahi Hospital and other facilities, he said.
Tuberculosis is caused by a bacteria that usually attacks the lungs. It can spread through the air from one person to another through coughs or sneezes.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised through sales of Christmas Seals to combat TB, with proceeds first going to the National Tuberculosis Society, then to its successor, the American Lung Association.
The seals are in the mail now to homes, said Sterling Yee, American Lung Association of Hawaii president.
The annual Christmas Seals are the biggest fundraiser of the year for the organization, Yee said.
Proceeds go to programs like educating schoolchildren about the dangers of smoking, asthma sports camps, support for research at the University of Hawaii's John A. Burns School of Medicine, and help for patients of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
In observance of the 100th anniversary of Christmas Seals, the lung association also is asking residents who have collected the seals over the years to call its office at 537-5966.
The owner of the oldest, uninterrupted collection will be recognized at the group's Christmas Seals Gala on Dec. 7 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.
Several collectors have already called, one with a continuous collection of full sheets of seals for 26 years, plus other years with individual seals, Kobayashi said.
The association has a single 1907 Christmas Seal.
Mabel Wilcox, who founded the association in Hawaii in 1929, bequeathed a large collection of seals, Kobayashi said. "She somehow got hold of a 1907 single seal. It looks rather plain, red on white," he said.
A postal clerk in Denmark began the world crusade to fight tuberculosis with a Christmas penny stamp.
According to a history of the seals in America, a doctor at a TB sanitarium in Delaware that needed $300 to remain open contacted his cousin, Emily Bissell, who was active in the American Red Cross and had fundraising experience.
She had heard about the Danish seals and borrowed $40 from friends to print 50,000 Christmas Seals with a red cross centered in a half-wreath of holly above the words "Merry Christmas."
She began selling them on Dec. 7, 1907, in a post office lobby for one penny each and, as the story goes, they "became a cherished American tradition."