March 19, 2003 Wednesday
By Charles Meredith
Morning Call (Allentown, PA)
Good morning. Let me begin with an apology.
Two weeks ago I reported that Gary Stever, the affable Quakertown dentist, was retired. I foolishly assumed that because Stever had multiple sclerosis and used a walker, he no longer practiced dentistry.
I couldn't have been more wrong; his MS affects only his legs. More on Stever in a moment.
Twenty years ago, I made a similar mistake. A blind man with a Seeing Eye dog turned into a boathouse on Kelly Drive in Philadelphia. I almost asked the man if he'd made a wrong turn. I didn't realize that David Rawl had been rowing with sighted athletes for 50 years!
I began my MS research by calling Linda Smith, the vice president for communications at Greater Delaware Valley MS headquarters. The office coordinates MS activities for 18 counties in Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. She said there are "930 patients in Bucks, 84 in Carbon, 430 in Lehigh, 1,185 in Montgomery, and 432 in Northampton counties.
"Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease of the central nervous system," Smith continued. "We don't know the cause, cure or prevention of the disease."
The myelin sheath covering the spinal cord becomes scarred and interrupts the signals from the brain. Stever likens it to frayed insulation on an electric wire. "The impulses become confused, like a misfire or no fire," he said.
The disease occurs most commonly between the ages of 20 and 50, Smith added.
Stever was 30. "My first symptoms were numbness in the feet," he said. "I have no pain, but I experience lots of fatigue." It's a confusing disease because it varies. Depending on where the scarring occurs, MS strikes vision, or hearing, or hands, or, as in Stever's case, the legs.
I asked Smith about MS research and funding.
"We have hundreds of projects investigating virology, genetics, immunology and biology of glia [brain] cells," she said. "And we have MS walks." Last year 200,000 walkers in 700 cities raised $38 million for research. There are MS walks in Easton and Sellersville on April 6 and a May 4 walk in Allentown. Walks are between five and eight miles. Walkers raise money for MS.
Stever sees more than 50 patients each week. "I'm fortunate that my profession permits me to sit instead of standing," he told me.
Stever directs the hand bell choir at his church. He no longer plays the organ because he can't use the pedals. Stever used to play trombone in the Quakertown Band and sing, as well.
Now he enjoys woodworking, instead. Beautiful cabinets, an entertainment center and a fireplace mantel are examples of his craftsmanship. Oak is his favorite wood. "I like the way it looks and works," he said with a smile.
There is no family history with MS, Stever added. "We deal with it."
Would stem cell research or therapeutic cloning provide a cure for MS? Who knows? But why deny scientists the opportunity to explore every avenue to find the answers to debilitating diseases like cancer, heart, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's -- and MS?
In the meantime, everyone can help. You can call 1-800-548-4611 or see the Web site www.walk4ms.org for information. I hope to see you on one of the walks.
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