More MS news articles for April 2001

A clinic that really cares

Generous donation helps treat patients with multiple sclerosis

Published Tuesday, April 24, 2001, in the Akron Beacon Journal.
Beacon Journal staff writer


GREEN: Some of the rooms in the sprawling, 6,700-square-foot facility are still bare, but they are filled with dreams, with the hopes of the people they will serve.

This is a place only love could have built.

That, and a generous gift by Jim and Vanita Oelschlager of Bath Township.

Jim Oelschlager, a money manager who suffers from multiple sclerosis, has given an undisclosed sum of money to make possible the Oak Clinic for Multiple Sclerosis in Green. The center, which has been operating since December, already has an active patient load of 55 people.

"There ought to be a Jim Oelschlager for every disease," says clinic administrator and nurse Patricia Blake.

Officials from the Oak Clinic did not want to disclose the amount of the gift, but a permit taken out for the remodeling of the building alone lists a cost of $540,000. The comprehensive facility -- which bills itself as the only charity-based MS center in the country -- will tackle every aspect of patient care.

Services offered include physical and occupational therapy, counseling and neurological and medical care. The center also helps patients get equipment such as leg braces, canes or shower chairs and assists in getting free medication for indigent patients.

"We have a team here," says Blake. "It takes more than a doctor to treat a patient. We approach every aspect of a person's quality of life. Many patients are not even aware of what their options are."

Blake herself has multiple sclerosis, a chronic disease that affects a person's central nervous system.

In a person with MS, the white blood cells attack the myelin coating of the nerves, leading to symptoms such as visual loss, blurred vision, dizziness, weakness or numbness in the limbs, excessive fatigue and loss of bowel or bladder control.

Higher incidence

For reasons that are unknown, Northeast Ohio has one of the highest incidences of MS in the country, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Nationally, the incidence rate ranges from 57 cases to 150 cases per 100,000. In Northeast Ohio, that rate is 130 cases to 150 cases per 100,000. No one knows what causes MS. One theory is that it is caused by a viral infection that affects the immune system. About 20 to 25 percent of all MS patients are profoundly disabled.
The clinic at 3838 Massillon Road is open to everybody, regardless of the degree of severity of their symptoms and regardless of their financial situation.

If the patient has private insurance or Medicare or Medicaid, the Oak Clinic will bill the appropriate agency. But if the patient has no insurance, he or she will still be welcomed.

"We've tried to welcome with open arms the people who don't have insurance," says Dr. Timothy Carrabine, director of the clinic.

Carrabine left a busy internal medicine practice in Fairlawn to head the clinic.

"It's nice to be able to practice medicine the way it was supposed to be," he says. "To not have to worry about insurance and just help patients, see the needy."

Patient praise

The program is a godsend for patients like Monique McCraney of Akron, who gets physical therapy to strengthen her weakened legs.

As McCraney, 32, sat strapped in a wheelchair before a set of parallel bars on a recent day, physical therapist Angela Brennan Raid kneeled before her chair.

"Her chair needs to be worked over and also needs a seat belt because she rides SCAT (bus). They may also want to look at a trunk rest for her," Brennan Raid says to Blake, who is nearby in her own wheelchair.

"We'll take care of it," Blake replies, as she scribbled on a notepad, reminding herself to contact McCraney's insurance provider to get the wheelchair upgraded.

Brennan Raid, who is employed by Summa Health System, is one of several therapists from Summa with whom the Oak Center subcontracts.

"I love it here," McCraney says later. "I want to volunteer here."

Therapy different

Although McCraney has had physical therapy before, she says it is different at the Oak Clinic. First of all, the occupational and physical therapists are neurotherapists and have dealt with MS patients before.
"The people here have MS," says McCraney's mother, Janice. "They know what she's feeling. In the other places, people are colder."

Her thoughts are echoed by another patient, Cir L'Bert, 43, of Akron.

"This place deals exclusively with MS," he says. "MS is a strange, weird and depressing disease. Other doctors don't have the resources for it."

Although L'Bert currently visits the clinic primarily for physical therapy and to get a weekly shot of a drug called Avonex, he is afraid that he may get another flare-up of the disease. These flare-ups, known as exacerbations, are treated with steroids, which are given intravenously. If that happens, the Oak Clinic is also set up to administer the treatments.

The MS clinic has worked closely with Summa and Akron General Medical Center. Both hospitals have offered free services -- such as MRIs and lab work -- to indigent patients referred by the center.

The Oak Center was designed with attention to detail. The examining tables are wider than average. The bathrooms are wide enough for a person to be able to spin a wheelchair around.

The occupational therapy wing also has a kitchen, a shower and a bedroom to teach patients how to fend for themselves at home. "It's a simulated house," Carrabine says.

Carrabine says the Oelschlagers have provided him with a dream job. "I'm ecstatic to be doing this. To help people, to see the needy and to leave payment burdens behind . . . "

Blake, who left a job at Akron General to work at the MS Center, says that when Carrabine approached her, she didn't have to consider for a minute.

"It's a good cause. It's once in a lifetime. You couldn't pass it up."

To get in touch with the Oak Clinic, call 330-896-9625.

Thrity Umrigar can be reached at 330-996-3174 or at