Vicki Lawrence/Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria

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Emmy-Award winning actress Vicki Lawrence suffers from Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria, or CIU, a form of chronic hives with no known cause. She now travels to cities across the U.S. to share her personal story about this little-known condition as part of a new national educational campaign called “CIU & You” and will be in Phoenix June 4. She will discuss her condition on Arizona Horizon.

TED SIMONS: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," we'll visit with actress Vicki Lawrence and hear why she's working to raise awareness of a chronic skin condition. And we'll speak with the author of a new novel set in the future of a drought-stricken southwest. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon."

VIDEO: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

TED SIMONS: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. Governor Doug Ducey today announced plans to increase K-12 education spending with money from state land trust sales. The Governor outlined his plans at a press conference this afternoon.

VIDEO (DOUG DUCEY): It is a request to the voters of Arizona, a very simple one: Let's put new money into our public schools without raising taxes. Here are the specifics. To raise the 2.5% distribution formula to 10% for a period of five years. That would mean at least $325 million a year in new dollars to our schools. Nearly $2 billion total over the five-year period.

VIDEO (ERIC MEYER): Anything to put more dollars into the classroom, I am in support of. The estimate is that it will increase funding about $300 per student per year for the first five years. If the voters approve it.

TED SIMONS: The funding proposal comes as the governor faces increasing criticism over his education policies and spending cuts.

Emmy award winning actress Vicki Lawrence is best known for playing the cantankerous but lovable matriarch on "mama's family" and "The Carol Burnett show." She travels the country raising awareness for chronic idiopathic urticaria or CIU. Here now to share her story is Vicki Lawrence.

VICKI LAWRENCE: You rolled that right off your tongue.

TED SIMONS: Just like I knew what I was talking about.

VICKI LAWRENCE: Yes.

TED SIMONS: I can't wait to talk about "mama's family" and stuff like that, but what is CIU?

VICKI LAWRENCE: I was diagnosed a little over four years ago. I woke up with my hand itching one morning. Buy a lottery ticket, we're coming into a lot of dough tonight. Next morning my hands were itching again. Next thing it's spreading all over my body. I remember walking the dogs home very quickly, right the allergist, something's wrong. The minute you get hives you immediately think allergy, you've done something stupid, changed your detergent, ate a bad peanut, I don't know.

Yeah, most people break out in hives at some point in their lives, they go away and don't happen again, not to worry, we'll get rid of it.

After six weeks doing everything you can think of for an allergic reaction, he diagnosed me with CIU. Off his tongue, chronic idiopathic urticaria? Seriously? Wrong meaning it's been six weeks or more, I like to think of the root word as idiot. He said, I cannot tell you why. You can scratch test all you want, I don't think you're going to find an answer. Urticaria is the fancy doctor word for hives. I started Googling and there was no information about CIU on the web. A lot of people asking, has this happened to anybody else? Do you know what this is? I don't know what to do.

I've talked to people in this program that have been looking for answers for years. Anyway, my allergist knew about CIU, I am hive free, I have not seen a hive in three years, thank you. It is treatable but not curable. It's chronic for me and four million and a half of us in this country.

TED SIMONS: When you did research and talked to folks, what were you hearing? Obviously something like this with no known cause or cure has to be frustrating to deal with.

VICKI LAWRENCE: Trying to find the answer is just the most frustrating part. You've got everything in your ear. My daughter saying you need to get on a holistic diet or an elimination diet at least, mom. I haven't changed anything I'm eating. My internist put me on a whole new vitamin regimen, obviously it's an allergic reaction, stop. Another friend said it's the tannins in the American red wine. You must start to drink French wine only. Everybody wants to help you, but nobody really has an answer for you. There is no answer. That's the hardest thing is to accept the fact that it's nothing you've done, for you it's chronic and that's how it goes for a million and a half of us.

TED SIMONS: You said it came on four and a half years ago. Anything in the past, any warning signs in the past?

VICKI LAWRENCE: No! When you think of hives don't you think of your mother-in-law's nervous breakdown? You're marrying my son?

I said to the doctor, I'm not stressed, I'm fine. He said there's just no -- no, this is the way it is.

TED SIMONS: What about your autoimmune?

VICKI LAWRENCE: Well, I don't -- the doctors do not have an answer for this. There are however as I said treatment options. When I was approached by this beautiful website that was supported by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. And it's made possible by very smart people that know what they are talking about. They put together this beautiful website, would you put your face on it and share your stories? Maybe we can get the word out there that it's real, you haven't lost your mind. If you are itching and can't find an answer, perhaps you want to get on there. There are downloadable materials so you can track your hives, and take pictures. The way the medical profession is nowadays you may not get to the right doctor for two or three weeks and you're not going get a diagnosis of CIU for six weeks. You want to be armed and dangerous and be proactive about your health and know what questions to ask.

TED SIMONS: And Ciuandyou.com.

VICKI LAWRENCE: Yes.

TED SIMONS: Why did you decide to go public with this?

VICKI LAWRENCE: What do I care? If people laugh, so be it, you love to laugh at me, you know you do. Everybody should have a place to go nowadays. As I said, I didn't see anything remotely informative on the web when I looked. Now if you Google CIU you'll get to our website and there's good information there.

TED SIMONS: You mention people have been laughing at you for quite a while. When people see you in the airport or the studio.

VICKI LAWRENCE: They just start laughing.

TED SIMONS: You being Mama.

VICKI LAWRENCE: Those TSA guys, they love to laugh.

TED SIMONS: Yeah. Odd question: What's it like to know that you have had such an impact for so many years, for so many folks, just making them laugh? Just giving them something to laugh about?

VICKI LAWRENCE: It's an honor, you know? It's a great honor.

TED SIMONS: Does it feel good?

VICKI LAWRENCE: Yes, of course it does, yeah. Of course I do have people come up to me all the time and say hi, where's mama? Like she should be with me. I'll get her, hold on. You know? She's more popular than I am probably.

TED SIMONS: When you first started the character, the "Carol Burnett Show," I seem to remember it was a skit, a segment and it exploded from there. Almost everyone recognizes almost everyone in that family. When you first started it, did you think we've got something here?

VICKI LAWRENCE: Yes. We knew it was a great sketch, written by two writers, both of whom hated their mothers. They wrote this beautiful homage to their dysfunctional upbringing. Carol said, I want to be Eunice. I want Vicki to be Mama. I think it needs to be southern.

The writers, it's like Tennessee Williams on acid. We have to do it southern. The writers were so upset when they saw it they walked out the first time.

They said you've ruined our beautiful piece.

We knew it was funny. We knew it was funny.

TED SIMONS: I just love the part where you guys -- everyone's arguing and then someone says, did you see what the dog just did? and the entire family then becomes butter.

VICKI LAWRENCE: Topaz! Look at this cute little thang! Look what he is doing!

TED SIMONS: But the reason people love it is because they recognize it.

VICKI LAWRENCE: Sure, absolutely.

But the writers said you're going to offend the entire southern half of the country, you have ruined our beautiful piece.

Carol said, this is the way I want to do it. She was right. Trust your instincts.

TED SIMONS: Were people insulted by it?

VICKI LAWRENCE: No, on the contrary. I always think of mama kind of like Archie Bunker. We all know that guy. It's good to bond and laugh over that craziness, right?

TED SIMONS: You were telling me before the show, "mama's family" is out on DVD now?

VICKI LAWRENCE: Yeah, Carol Burnett, all of that stuff out on DVD now. We just did all the little bonus features for it. She was able to negotiate the rights to the first five years under a different production banner. I don't think any of those shows have been seen since they were on the air. We've got a DVD coming out in September, the Carol Burnett show," the lost episodes.

TED SIMONS: I love it. How are you keeping busy? What are you going?

VICKI LAWRENCE: I'm on the road, doing a show I called Vicki Lawrence and Mama, a one-woman show. Basically I open for Mama.

TED SIMONS: Yeah. It's been quite a career and again, I just think it's wonderful to be able to look back and know that you've made so many folks happy.

VICKI LAWRENCE: It's a wonderful feeling.

TED SIMONS: And to also tell people about ciuandyou.com.

VICKI LAWRENCE: Get there and download those materials and get some good information and watch my lovely video. If you're itching, maybe this is the answer.

TED SIMONS: Got an itch to scratch, that's where you go?

VICKI LAWRENCE: Maybe.

TED SIMONS: It's nice to meet you and good luck with all of your future endeavors.

Thank you.

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