Cause Celeb highlights a celebrity’s work on behalf of a specific cause. This week, we speak with Brandon Barash, actor and photographer, who has appeared on numerous television shows including "24" and "The West Wing" and currently appears as Johnny Zacchara on ABC’s long-running soap opera, "General Hospital." He was recently named a National Celebrity Ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association after donating much money and helping out at this year’s annual telethon. We spoke with him at a recent dinner where he was selling his book of worldwide photography to raise funds for the MDA. The books are can be purchased at General Hospital Fan Club events.Recently, Barash and some of his "General Hospital" co-stars formed a band named after the fictitious city where the show is based. The band, Port Chuck, is made up of Barash, Bradford Anderson, Scott Reeves and Steve Burton. They first appeared at the 2010 CMA Music Festival in Nashville on June 11.
Q: Tell me about the Muscular Dystrophy Association and how they help people with the disease.
Barash: They do everything, from conducting research and figuring out ways to improve quality of life, to building clinics, to assisting the families, to Muscular Dystrophy Camp, which is something that children who are afflicted with neuromuscular diseases can attend. Donations that people make go toward sending these kids to Muscular Dystrophy Camp where they can all be one, where they can all not be different. They can all do these activities together, as opposed to being on the playground at a normal school where kids are jumping around, playing basketball and you’ve got a kid in a wheelchair or in a walker who can’t participate. Camps, clinics, improving quality of life, research, drugs, they cover everything, which is really nice.
Q: What prompted you to become involved?
Barash: When I was a kid, my best friend was afflicted with a rare but very deadly form of MD called Duchenne. He passed away when I was 18, just before his 18th birthday. I made a promise then, to myself and to him, that as soon as I became successful in whatever line of work I chose later on in life, I would pick up fighting wherever he left off.
Q: Why is it important to increase awareness and research? It’s obvious, but could you elaborate? Do you think a lot of people know about the disease?
Barash: People see. They turn on the telethon and they see the kids, and sometimes the adults, in wheelchairs. They recognize it, but we’re in 2010, and there’s not really an awareness of what these families go through, or how expensive it is to send these kids to camp, or to fit their houses for special beds and elevators. Plus, there is the counseling that a family goes through, either when a father is diagnosed with ALS, or a 3-year-old kid is diagnosed with Duchenne, or any of the other forms of muscular dystrophy.
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Q: ALS is a form of muscular dystrophy?
Barash: It is; it’s a neuromuscular disease. With Duchenne, it’s pretty much that the kid grows up with it and dies of it. With ALS, you could be living a normal life, you’re 57 years old, you’re not feeling right, you go to the doctor and he says, you have ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Within two to three years you will deteriorate to nothing; it’s terrible.
The research has lent itself to improving quality of life and extending life expectancies of people afflicted with the neuromuscular diseases in the last several decades. The more money we pump into MDA and the more awareness we generate, the better we can make these people’s lives.
Q: You told me about your personal experiences; have you had anything else touch you involving disease?
Barash: Just being at the telethon this year. Meeting with all these ... I want to say kids, it’s not just kids, it’s also adults afflicted with different forms of MD. The most astonishing thing to me is all of these people, they lack tremendously physically. But, what they lack in the physical department they make up mentally and in spirit. I don’t think any of us in this room really understand the mental and spiritual power that people afflicted with these diseases possess.
Q: What can people do to help besides give money, because that’s the obvious one?
Barash: They can, of course, give money; they can support the cause. But, they can volunteer at the MDA telethon. Or they can, and this kind of ties in to giving money, when at the grocery store you’re asked, “do you want to buy a shamrock for a dollar?” buy a shamrock. People think it’s just a dollar, it doesn’t help. Every little bit helps. Now with the digital age as prevalent and as strong as it is, tweet about it. Go on to the Muscular Dystrophy Association website, MDA.org, and find an article that interests you and tweet about it, or put it on your Facebook.
Q: Does the family of your friend know what you’re doing?
Barash: Yeah, we’re in touch. We had lunch before I went to Vegas to do the telethon this year. They know exactly what I’m doing.
Q: What have they said to you?
Barash: They’re very touched. I keep reassuring them that Chad lives on through the love he gave others, through his spirit and through what I’m trying to do by raising awareness.
Q: What do you like about doing charity events this way, little intimate dinners? Why did this appeal to you?
Barash: As opposed to getting in a room of 300 people and saying, “there’s my photography, look at it,” I get to go around the table and talk to everybody and really give them a chance to see where I’m coming from. I get to see what pulled each person into the event. Obviously, your interest was piqued somewhere. You’re in the business of selling news, but something in there generated interest within you. That’s what this is really good for.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Barash: No, I think we’ve covered it all. Not to be preachy or pontificating or anything, but Chad’s death to me was tragic, but I vowed never to let it stay tragic but to turn it into something good. That’s why I’m here.
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints