Bethlehem volunteer recently diagnosed
By JOE CARLSON
EASTON - When Leslie Schleicher came to Hugh Moore Park on Sunday, it wasn’t the first time that she had volunteered for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s annual MS Walk.
A few years ago, Schleicher came out to show her support for the cause, soliciting pledges and walking the six-mile course to raise money for more than 300,000 Americans living with MS.
This year, Schleicher came to the event with a new pair of glasses and a different perspective.
The Bethlehem resident was diagnosed with MS last December after her second attack. The disease affects her eyes, causing attacks of double vision and vertigo. Today the symptoms are limited mainly to side effects from the four shots she has to take each month.
She said "overwhelming" is about the only way to describe the support she has received from loved ones since her diagnosis. A contingent of more than a dozen supporters from Schleicher’s family and church secretly organized to show up at the walk Sunday.
Erin Dallago, a community campaigns assistant for the Greater Delaware Valley chapter of the society, said Sunday’s walk drew 580 registered participants, an increase over last year’s turnout of 446.
"I think people are becoming recommitted and reattached to a cause," Dallago said. "I don’t want to say that it’s because of what happened in September, but I think that we’ve all been in a reality check and we’ve all had to re-evaluate ourselves and who we’re helping."
The donations from the volunteers were still being tabulated after registration Sunday morning, but Dallago estimated it would come out to about $29,000.
The event at Hugh Moore Park was one of nine such walks held Sunday in the Greater Delaware Valley. In all, the chapter will hold 21 of the five- to eight-mile walks by May 5. Dallago said the goal for donations from volunteers in the Delaware Valley chapter is $2 million.
Nationally, the organization puts on more than 700 of the walks during the spring. Funds raised go to pay for research on MS and services for people who have the disease and their families.
Nationally the society has funded more than $320 million in research since its founding in 1946, according to a news release. The group spent $23 million last year.
MS is one of the most common diseases of the nervous system. Symptoms include vision loss, paralysis, numbness and walking difficulties, according to a paper by Dr. Loren A. Rolak posted on the MS group’s Web site.
The symptoms appear because the disease causes the destruction of a protective sheaf called myelin around nerves in the brain and spinal cord. Myelin is essential for nerves to transmit signals.
The exact reason the body’s immune system attacks the myelin is not fully understood. But the effects and severity of symptoms of the disease can vary widely depending on which nerves are affected. MS affects twice as many women as men.
But the research continues. Just Wednesday, officials at the University of Washington in Seattle reported preliminary results of a study using stem cell transplants to treat severe, progressive MS. The study found that about 20 of the 26 patients appeared to "stabilize" within a year, while one person died from complications related to the procedure, according to an article in the MS society’s bulletin.
"This is an exciting time for us as far as the research goes," Dallago said. "The disease is very complex. … But I hope in my lifetime there will be a cure."
Reporter Joe Carlson can be reached at 610-258-7171.
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