The MSA Coalition would like to pay tribute to Yang (Judy) Gao, an MSA patient and active member of The MSA Coalition who passed away from the disease in 2020. The MSA Coalition was an important organization to Yang, and she remembered the group in her estate plan.
According to her close friend, Xiao-Dong Han, during the last year of her life, Gao talked a lot about the MSA support group. She felt that she was not alone because there were people in the group like her who had a professional career or didn’t have a family either.
“I am not sure if Yang had ever met any of the people in the support group, but she did keep close contact with a few of them, like family,” Han said. “Yang shared the same thoughts with others in the support group that increasing medical providers’ awareness about MSA is urgently needed so that its early diagnosis becomes possible. I believe that this is the main reason Yang decided to support The MSA Coalition.”
Gao was born on January 13, 1957 in a small coalmine town called Beipiao in northeast of China where she was raised by loving parents. In 1977, she left home for Shanghai to study at the Shanghai Institute of Mechanical Engineering. In the early 90s, after working a few years in Hangzhou Photographic Machinery Research Institute, Gao came to the United States to study at the University of Houston-Clear Lake and received a master’s degree in applied physics.
Gao worked her way up from a test engineer to senior manager in the field of quality assurance and liability, working for well-known companies within the medical device industry including St. Jude Medical, Boston Scientific, Medtronic, and Johnson & Johnson where she played an important role to ensure that the final product of a medical device was safe before use.
Gao was a big fan of The Beijing Opera and was able to recite many classical Chinese poems by heart. She was well known to her friends for her appreciation of Chinese literature as well as her beautiful Chinese writing style. She loved to travel and helped organize many class reunion events. In addition, she was good at Shanghai-style cooking and enjoyed having parties and sharing good food with friends.
From very early on, Gao showed her passion and love toward people around her. She made many friends at different stages of her life and inspired and helped each of them in many different ways. She always remembered to send Christmas cards to her friends and their family each year. She tried to reconnect and had ongoing correspondences with many of her old friends until her passing.
In the summer of 2014, Gao was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. She survived cancer, however, during that period of time, she experienced some non-specific autonomic neuropathy symptoms that didn’t respond to medications. There was no definite diagnosis until early 2017 after she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she was finally given a diagnosis of Multiple System Atrophy, possible parkinsonian type (MSA-P). In August 2018, Yang made the trip to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. for a second opinion, and her diagnosis was confirmed by the MSA specialist team there.
Cyndi Roemer, Chair of The MSA Coalition Board of Directors, said, “I recall meeting Yang at our Patient & Family Conference in the fall of 2018 in San Francisco. She was eager to learn and engage with our community, possessing a beautiful and positive spirit.”
Carol Langer, Treasurer of The MSA Coalition Board, also met Gao at the same conference, and recalled that, “Yang attended many sessions and was clearly interested to learn everything she could about MSA. She was one of the few patients in attendance at that conference without significant movement issues, but a year later she needed to attend our conference virtually due to mobility challenges.”
Gao accepted her diagnosis calmly but never gave up hope. She didn’t stop working right away and even made a few trips with friends. She tried acupuncture, physical therapy, and participated in clinical trials at Stanford Medical Center. She also joined the local MSA support group and followed research development on brain chips from the Neuralink team hoping that it would soon be available to MSA patients.
Sadly, Gao left us on August 23rd, 2020. She will be remembered for her kindness, intelligence, and generosity and is missed by all her friends.
Roemer said about Gao, “I was so sorry to learn that she declined as quickly as she did and was saddened to learn of her passing in 2020. But my sadness is overshadowed by my memory of Yang as strong, caring, and inspirational. As she faced her final weeks, Yang thought about others facing life with MSA, leading her to bequest her estate to The MSA Coalition to support our work for this community. What an incredible way to contribute to a better future for others. It is truly an honor that she put her trust in us to accomplish her wishes.”
Langer added, “As treasurer and as a person who has been immersed in the MSA community for more than 25 years, it is always bittersweet to receive a request about ways to remember The MSA Coalition in an estate plan. After Yang passed away, her friends, who administered her estate, said she considered the people she met through The MSA Coalition conferences to be her family, and she wanted to leave something to them to help them. Her bequest of a rental property in Oceanside, CA. netted The MSA Coalition $618,000, and we are honored and grateful to be able to fulfill her wishes to help others with these funds.”
Planned Giving for The MSA Coalition
A planned gift is any major gift, made in your lifetime or at death as part of your overall financial and/or estate planning that benefits charities and/or heirs. Yang’s incredibly generous donation of her estate to our organization is a type of planned giving. It is an important philanthropic tool to support The Multiple System Atrophy Coalition in a meaningful and substantial way. Learn more about planned giving.
MSA Angel Memorials
Creating an online memorial for a loved one that has passed is one way our community members honor their loved ones. The MSA Coalition has partnered with an easy-to-use platform where family members can share stories, memories, and photos of their deceased loved one with their own community as well as the MSA community. Learn how to set up an MSA Angels Memorial.