Doctors say such testing -- at a cost of around $100 -- should be done routinely for 18 autosomal recessive disorders, including the gene for cystic fibrosis, which occurs in one in 20 caucasians, said Kolodny. Even with advances in Tay-Sachs testing in the Jewish community, public education must continue.
"The problem is each generation forgets what happened in the prior generation -- the grandmothers die out, " said Kolodny. "We need to educate health care professionals. Each new group of students graduating from medical school isn't prepared to ask the right questions."
Susan Kahn, NTSAD's executive director, who is involved in fundraising for research, agrees that along with a fight for a cure, genetic testing is critical.
"When there is a genetic disease, it's not just about that person, there is a whole implication for the rest of the family and how they deal with it," she said.
Stewart Altman sits on the association's board of directors and is a tireless crusader for a cure.
"He's got some disabilities that make it difficult for him to do certain things, but of all the board members asking for money to support, he is probably the boldest in our group," said Kahn. "He does have a lot of limitations, but he is still very energetic and wants to do something important. Not everyone responds with the same attitude."
His wife Lorrie backed that up with a laugh. "He is persistent," she said. "He carries these little envelopes around and will ask anyone he meets for a donation. It's almost embarrassing. He's not afraid to ask."