March is MS awareness month in Ohio

Maybe you’re sitting watching TV or having dinner or waking up in the morning when you feel some tingling in your arms or legs – as if they were asleep. Maybe it’s sharp pain you feel – anywhere you have nerves – or it could be the opposite and there’s no feeling at all, just a numbness that won’t go away. Or maybe your vision is blurred or your speech is slurred or you have never-ending fatigue.

For most people these symptoms will just go away or be resolved with medication or other treatments. However, for over 400,000 men, women and children in our country (2.5 million in the world), what they are experiencing are the first signs of multiple sclerosis – a chronic disease that attacks the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord and optic nerves). In simplistic terms, it damages the myelin sheath covering nerves causing, in effect, a short circuiting of the nerve and the service that nerve provides the body.

Those with MS experience a wide range of temporary and/or permanent damage. It sometimes attacks, does some damage and then goes away. This type is called “relapsing-remitting.” This form makes it difficult to know if a particular treatment is actually working – did the treatment work or did the MS just go into remission? Another type is “progressive-relapsing” with the person gradually getting worse with each new attack. And then there is “primary (or secondary) progressive” which never goes into remission, getting ever worse, taking more and more functions from its victims. MS can affect anyone, although women are twice as likely as men to get it.

Celebrities with MS include Annette Funicello who seems to have primary progressive, Teri Garr perhaps with progressive-relapsing and country singer Clay Walker with what seems to be relapsing-remitting. The only celebrity I ever met with MS was David Lander (“Squiggy” on the "Laverne & Shirley" TV show), who works as a Goodwill Ambassador for the National MS Society. But over the 45 years I’ve been involved with MS, I have met hundreds of others with the disease and learned of hundreds more, as many have told me stories of friends and relatives with MS.

Since there is such a wide range of symptoms with MS, it’s sometimes called the “invisible disease” especially with those with relapsing-remitting who do not seem to be afflicted even while dealing with the residual damage already done to their bodies and their lives. MS, with the changing nature and timing of its various attacks, brings an ever present uncertainty – literally never knowing from day to day how you will be – and to make plans is to accept they may have to be changed due to possible new attacks.

It’s estimated that MS-related health care costs are $10 billion a year. While there is no cure, significant advances have been made to treat its symptoms and to slow its progression. The sooner a diagnosis can be made, the sooner treatment can be started to hold the effects of MS at bay at least for a while.

Ohio ranks near the top of states with people with MS – so much so that the month of March is MS Awareness Month in our state, providing opportunities to get the word out on what MS is, what it can do to you and possibly bring people with symptoms to doctors for early treatment.

It’s also an opportunity to thank everyone that has donated to MS funding directly or through events such as the Walk for MS or Pedal to the Point, both of which have raised millions of dollars over the years for research and other help. Thanks to this research there are now more drugs available than ever to treat symptoms as a vaccine and cure are sought.

I write a piece like this every March, hoping that the next one I write will include celebratory words describing how MS has finally been defeated, as I know it will be some day. Until then the fight goes  on, fought by those with MS and their families, and those like you who read words like mine and care enough to help those with the disease with good thoughts, prayers, donations and most of all, love.

Mel Maurer lives in Westlake and is an MS Ambassador for the Ohio Buckeye Chapter of the National MS Society.

Mel Maurer

Mel Maurer lives in Westlake and is an MS Ambassador for the Ohio Buckeye Chapter of the National MS Society.

Read More on Health & Wellness
Volume 5, Issue 5, Posted 10:00 AM, 03.05.2013