Chicago bank exec using personal battles to help others

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She’s buddies with the Bulls’ Joakim Noah and his Mom, and is a wildly successful Chicago bank executive. Justine Fedak used to have a secret about her personal battles.  But as WGN Sports Director Dan Roan reports, she’s now very vocal about that secret in the hopes of helping others.

“I’m good at feeling sorry for myself very badly for about 5 minutes.”

You may not know her face or name, but you’re probably seen Justine Fedak’s work, like these popular BMO Harris Bank commercials.

“They’re fillin’ all the holes on Oak Street. ‘Bout time.” As the BMO Harris bank executive who negotiated sponsorships with both the Blackhawks and Bulls, she convinced superstars Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler to show their softer sides. (more commercial) Jimmy Butler: “Is he gonna go or what? (actor) He’s picky.” (actor) “I didn’t mean to cry.” Joakim” “Me either. That is definitely Justine’s weird sick kind of humor. I’m a hippie and she liked my hippie vibe and now we’ve been cool ever since!” “I’ve been working with the Bulls since 2007. And Joakim Noah’s Mom is my best friend.” “Justine is really part of our family,” says Bulls President and Chief Operating Officer Michael Reinsdorf.

“She’s always the first person to offer up creative ideas and suggestions to me over the years.” “So, that was my first big outing after not feeling well, which I chose to wear gold jeans to.” (laughs) Justine is Canadian, but moved to Chicago to work for BMO Harris Bank more than two decades ago. She got to know the city as a long distance runner. But, in 2001 she felt incredible pain, then numbness in her leg. “My immediate reaction was not even at all to think it was something serious. I in fact thought it was the Donna Karan support hose that I was wearing to suck in my body as tightly as possible.” Diagnosis; M.S., multiple sclerosis. Dr. Bruce Cohen from Northwestern Medicine is her neurologist.

“Multiple sclerosis is an immune disorder of the central nervous system, which is the most common cause of neurologic disability in young working age adults.” “I often speak of it like, I felt like I was broken.” “Justine is an energetic and vivacious woman who has not let this stand in her way. And I wish all of my patients could see that.” She owns scores of funky glasses. And heels this high command confidence, agility, and in Justine Fedak’s case; a cane. “One day in the office somebody said to me, “Oh I can hear you coming your cane clicks. And I thought that’s it.”

She traded her noisy, metal cane for a more stylish acrylic one, and had it cut to high heel height. She realized it was time to take the cane and her condition out of the closet. She did so on Christmas Day at a Bulls game. “And I walked out onto the court with my daughter to take a picture and everybody looked, because to see me walk for the first time with a cane, everyone had a look on their face of “wow.” Michael Reinsdorf was there too. “I think people were concerned like did something happen? Did you get hurt? Did you fall? I don’t think there are a lot of people actually felt sorry for her cause she doesn’t feel sorry for herself.” That lack of self pity, and willingness to show others that you can be wildly successful even with a debilitating disease, earned her this year’s M.S. Society’s “Woman on the Move” award. “She’s a little person,” says the Bulls’ Noah, “but she has the heart of a lion, so she’ll get through this.” Thirteen years after her diagnosis, Justine can no longer run, can’t drink, and worries about her days of immobility disappointing her ten year old daughter. But, that “broken” feeling is long gone.

This was Justine’s first outing following a new, aggressive, what she calls, “chemo-like” treatment. Yet, with the full support of her bosses, she’s a walking M.S. advocate, raising awareness and money for research. “If you wake up and you think what’s the great thing I’m going to do today, then I think you live a full day.” Dan Roan, WGN News.”

Justine helped Joakim launch his Noah’s Arc Foundation that helps Chicago kids fulfill their dreams. And she volunteers for many Chicago area good causes. We hope you will share this story. And, you can learn much more about M.S. and Justine’s work by clicking the links below.

Producer Pam Grimes and Photojournalist Steve Scheuer contributed to this report.



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