March is MS Awareness Month In Ohio

Multiple Sclerosis is a chronic, often disabling and unpredictable disease of the central nervous system with no known cause or cure.

In 1968, my friend Dick told me of the problems his wife was having with pain and even some numbness in her legs. He said she had been seen by several doctors and had been treated for various illnesses. Everything he told me was all too familiar.

My wife had been through a similar process for almost three years before being seen by the right doctor who correctly diagnosed Multiple Sclerosis. Dick knew my wife had MS but was not aware of its symptoms. After I told him what they were, we both knew his wife may also have MS. He and his wife then made an appointment with my wife’s doctor – a neurologist – who did diagnose her with the disease.

March is MS Awareness month in Ohio. Dick was the first person I had made aware of MS, many more would follow. There was no MS Awareness Month in 1968 but stories like mine are what the month is all about – getting the word out on MS. It’s a disease that cannot yet be cured but the progression of which can be slowed down with medications. (Obviously, the sooner people know they have MS, the better.)

There were no such medications in 1968 and my friend’s story did not end well. His wife’s MS was the progressive type which very quickly left her crippled for life at a young age. My wife’s MS turned out to be another type – one that attacks the nerves but then goes into remissions of varying lengths.

To know one person with MS is not to know another. It’s as if it’s designed for each person. The disease attacks the lining around the nerves, effectively “short circuiting” them, causing symptoms from numbness and tingling to even blindness, and for some, paralysis. MS mostly hits people between the ages of 20 and 50, but people as young as three and as old as 75 have also been diagnosed with it. More than twice as many women than men are afflicted with the disease.

Ohio has more people – over 20,000 – with MS than many other states. We don’t know why but should ongoing research eventually determine why people living in climates such as ours in Ohio are more susceptible to MS, we will have taken a giant step towards preventing it and maybe even curing it.

We appreciate those who support MS research with their time and their funds. Support for government funding is also appreciated. These efforts are working; advances are being made in fighting MS (and other disabling diseases). Currently there is $7.5 million in funding for much-needed MS research at Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and The Ohio State University. The annual MS Walk (this year on April 9 in Cleveland) and MS Pedal to the Point (August 13-14) have raised millions for research.

Promising advances have been made towards developing ways to improve symptoms of MS, and in restoring functions. It’s encouraging that the U.S. Drug Administration has now approved the first pill – called “Gilenya” – to treat the underlying causes of MS.

MS Awareness Month is similar to a BOLO in law enforcement departments – Be On the Look Out for MS. Becoming aware of a problem is taking the first step toward solving it. We’ll never know how many people became aware of having the disease because of an “Awareness Month” or week but even if it’s only one, that will have been worth it. I look forward to the year when I write one of these pieces making you aware that MS has been whipped.

For more information about Multiple Sclerosis, the National MS Society and Ohio’s Buckeye Chapter of the society, please call 1-800-FIGHT MS (1-800-344-4867) or visit www.MSohiobuckeye.org

Mel Maurer

Mel Maurer is a Westlake resident, volunteer with the Ohio Buckeye Chapter of the MS Society, member of its Government Relations committee and inductee in the National MS Society’s Volunteer Hall of Fame.

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Volume 3, Issue 5, Posted 9:56 AM, 03.08.2011