Who was Victor Henschel?
Victor Henschel was a generous man, always ready to lend a hand, or offer a kind word or smile to those he encountered—even during the 35 years that he struggled with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. His way of life was deeply rooted in his favorite quote, "Love will find a way."
It's not surprising that when Victor passed away in 1983, his love and compassion were carried down through the generations of his family.
To honor Victor's memory, the Henschel family made a significant donation to National Psoriasis Foundation to create the National Psoriasis Victor Henschel BioBank, which will hold the world's largest collection of psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis genetic samples for use in research.
"I always wanted to do something to honor my father," says Neal Henschel. "The idea [with the gift] was to see if we could get some kind of really wonderful result so that I would know that psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis wouldn't get passed down to future generations of our family. And we wanted to help the rest of the world that suffers with the disease."
Psoriasis has played a role in several generations of the Florida-based Henschel family, illustrating the role genetics plays in psoriasis. Victor had psoriasis, and then it appeared to skip a generation as neither Neal nor his younger sister, Judy Gelman, have psoriasis. But two of Neal's three sons, Andy and Ben, along with Judy's daughter, Jane Kaufman, have the disease.
Victor was in his 40s when he developed psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. The psoriasis started on his head, and progressively got worse until it covered his body. "It was extremely debilitating to him," says Neal. "He suffered mightily from it, but never complained about the disease." Judy spent countless hours caring for her father and knew firsthand how badly his body was being ravaged by the disease. "Amazingly, whenever asked, my father always responded that he was 'feeling super!' no matter how poorly he was feeling," says Judy.
Victor went to many dermatologists, but mostly found himself the subject of experimental treatments that didn't work—or worse, made him sick to the point of being hospitalized.
Bottom row from left to right: Victoria, Alexandra and Jamie Henschel; top row: Andy, Lauren and Nancy Henschel
Andy's psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis developed in his teen years, and he has painful memories of watching his grandfather struggle with his disease.
"One of the things that shaped the way I dealt with my psoriasis as a young man was thinking how alone I might end up, just like my grandfather—being alone at the Dead Sea, being alone in my own bed. It took me a very long time to get past what my grandfather's experience had been."
As a 15-year-old, Andy was embarrassed to share the extent of his psoriasis with his parents, and he felt he had nowhere to get information. "I had a World Book Encyclopedia from 1972; there was no Internet and nobody to talk to." Andy felt that without information, a person can't have hope and without hope, there is nothing.
That pain, isolation and lack of information eventually prompted Andy to join the National Psoriasis Foundation in 1994 and to later serve on the Psoriasis Foundation Board of Trustees from 1997-2006.
Neal and Barbara Henschel
"I knew that if my grandfather had known there was a Psoriasis Foundation, he would have done every single thing in his power to protect me and all of his grandchildren from psoriasis," says Andy, who with his wife Nancy, has four daughters. The Henschels hope the research generated by BioBank will lead to a cure for psoriatic diseases. Neal adds, "We're doing this at this time to help not just our family, but everybody."