By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated May 10, 2002 10:00 AM
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Acting more like public advocate Erin Brockovich than a movie star, Julia Roberts went to Capitol Hill on Thursday to push Congress to fund the neurological disorder Rett syndrome, a condition that mainly afflicts young girls and has about 200,000 sufferers worldwide, reports the Associated Press. Wearing eyeglasses and her hair pulled back, the Oscar winner (for 2000’s “Erin Brockovich”) held back tears as she described the death of a 10-year-old Rett syndrome victim, Abigail Brodsky of Brooklyn, N.Y., who died in June. Roberts and the girl had filmed a one-hour documentary for the Discovery Health Channel. “This is very impressive and nerve-racking,” Roberts, 34, said as she began her appeal in the crowded hearing room of the House Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees public health spending. “I usually ramble,” she admitted, “but this is important, so I’ll read.” Rett syndrome leaves its victims unable to communicate and control their body movements, rendering many of its patients severely disabled by the age of 3. “These are the voices that we hear today in the halls of Congress,” Roberts said over the loud cheers from children sitting in back of her, according to the AP. “They listen but cannot speak. They struggle to do the many things we take for granted everyday.” Roberts requested that the subcommittee set aside $15.5 million for Rett syndrome research in its 2003 budget. (This year, federal funding was $3.5 million.) As for Roberts’s late young friend, “Abigail was my pal,” said the actress, controlling her emotions. “We spent time together without words. We connected with our eyes.”