Lorrie Yates forms group for people dealing with challenges of multiple sclerosis
Thursday, April 25, 2002
By Isamu Jordan
Lorrie Yates has MS.
MS does not have her.
"I haven't given up," Yates said.
Since being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis more than a year ago, Yates has a hard time holding a conversation, much less a spoon or a pencil, because of fleeting memory and motor skills.
But Yates hasn't let MS get in the way of her life.
Instead, Yates accepts MS as a part of her life. She works to help others dealing with the chronic neurological disease as a co-leader for the North Side's MS self-help support group.
Yates took initiative in starting the group when she learned there were support groups meeting on the South Hill and in the Spokane Valley but not on the North Side.
The support group meetings are a place where anyone can go to learn more about MS.
"If there is one person in your life whom you trust about MS and that person leaves, you don't have to feel like you're all alone. You have the rest of the group to go to for help," Yates said.
Support group members talk about their personal experiences with MS and share any new information about the disease at the meetings.
Meetings for the North Side support group are monthly at the Multiple Sclerosis Center, 5901 N. Lidgerwood, near Holy Family Hospital.
When the group was formed, Yates said there was a lot of tears as members talked about the burden of trying to keep the disease hidden from friends because of embarrassment.
There is a lot of laughter, too, as members try to keep a healthy sense of humor about living with MS, Yates said.
Those who attend the meetings have varying degrees of MS. Some have relatives with MS.
They all share an interest in wanting to know more about the disease.
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic neurological disease in which the body's immune system attacks myelin, the fatty insulation that protects nerve fibers of the brain, optic nerves and spinal cord.
If the nerve fibers are a computer wire carrying information, such as a memory, then the myelin is the plastic covering over the wire.
Once that wire is exposed and subsequently damaged, the information -- that memory -- cannot be accessed.
Spokane is ranked first in the nation for registered MS cases with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, according to Reed Friedman, office manager for the Inland Northwest Chapter of the society.
Spokane has 190 registered cases of MS per 100,000 people. The U.S. average of registered cases is 125 per 100,000. Los Angeles has 35 cases per 100,000, according to Friedman.
Studies show MS occurs more often in temperate zones than in regions closer to the equator, Friedman said.
The cause is unknown, and there is no known cure, although the disease is not fatal.
Symptoms come in a wide range.
While Yates experiences heavy fatigue, muscle spasms and memory problems, she considers herself lucky.
She has become accustomed to the spasms when she goes to take a sip of hot coffee and her hand suddenly dumps it in her face.
Often are the awkward moments at the grocery store when she wants to say apple and all that comes out is "aplah."
"People look at me, and they have no clue as to what I am talking about. It's frustrating. It's embarrassing. But it happens," Yates said.
The disease becomes horrifying, Yates said, when basic memories step just out of bounds of her memory.
"I've lived here all my life, and then at Kmart, just up the street, I couldn't remember how to get home," Yates said.
Then, like lyrics to a favorite song, her memories will flood back to her mind.
For her, the worst came last year at a family cookout when she lost temporary use and feeling in her legs.
The episode left her bedridden for two weeks.
"I'm blessed if all I do is garble words, jerk my legs in the air or drop a cup of coffee. There are some women in our group who have really run the gamut," Yates said.
Women like Pam Murch.
Murch, 44, was diagnosed with MS 17 years ago.
It started with fogginess in one eye, then spread to the other.
She experiences regular numbness in her limbs, fatigue, memory loss, bladder and bowel control problems, and a drop in her right leg that requires her to use a cane, walker or wheelchair, depending on her strength. Murch also lives with fibromyalgia and scoliosis.
Murch remembers being woken in the middle of night by her own legs slamming together in bed.
She can hardly stand on her own for more than a minute.
At first she tried to keep her MS a secret, but she quickly found it impossible. So she started drinking out of frustration.
Now Murch, a single mom, is proud to say she is a recovering alcoholic.
"People would think I was drunk when I wasn't because I was losing my balance. So in my mind that became an excuse to get drunk," Murch said.
After she was diagnosed with MS, Murch said she had to quit her job as a sales associate for KREM because she wasn't able to keep up.
Now she volunteers her time at the MS Center, providing MS resources and referrals for others.
"I want to do anything I can to help someone deal with it better than I did," Murch said.
She still gets angry that she has MS. But her anger is shrouded in humor most of the time.
At the last support group meeting Murch joked about her MS, calling it PMS and BS.
The meetings, Murch said, showed her that she was not alone in her struggle to control her body and mind.
"When someone says something and 10 people in the room are nodding, going `I know,' that is just the coolest thing," Murch said.
As a co-leader for the group, Yates writes up the agenda on her computer at home, makes copies of any news and organizes a guest speaker for each meeting.
She said working on her computer is a good workout for her memory.
"Because they look so much alike, sometimes I have to go into every program until I can remember the one I was looking for," Yates said.
Yates lives with her mom, Myrt, and the two take care of each other.
Myrt Yates said the best way to help her daughter, is by watching her struggle.
"I try to help her, but I want to let her think of things on her own," Myrt Yates said, noting that the two trade off cooking and cleaning duties.
Yates said the biggest challenge is not with the things she has difficulty doing, but the things that come easiest.
"The things I try really hard to do are things like, when I'm alone I try not to be scared," Yates said.