Patti Blake stays upbeat, saying disease reorders life, teaches important lessons
Sat, Apr. 17, 2004
The Beacon Journal
Take my legs.
But not my eyes.
And not my hands.
That's been Patti Blake's prayer for 27 years.
She whispers it before bed at night. And she nearly sings it upon awakening to a new day.
Those words are as much a part of Patti as the multiple sclerosis that kicked in the door on her life when she was in nursing school at the University of Akron.
As evil and sinister as this incurable, chronic, lifelong disease of the central nervous system is, Patti, now 48, refuses to allow it to take away her joy of living.
"I'm not bitter. I'm blessed," insists the woman who zips around in a motorized wheelchair. Patti has experienced temporary vision loss and is unable to distinguish certain colors.
The mother of two adult sons and the grandmother of three calls her husband of almost 30 years, Richard Scott Blake, a godsend. "Because chronic illnesses are so stressful to live with, divorce rates are extremely high," she's quick to note.
"MS teaches you things about life, things about yourself. And it gives you a feeling about life like you never had. That every day is a gift, a blessing."
I caught up with Patti earlier this week at Oak Clinic for Multiple Sclerosis in Green, where she is the administrator and one of only two MS-certified nurses. There are fewer than 500 MS-certified nurses worldwide.
Patti -- who will participate in Sunday's MS Walk -- worked for 15 years at Akron General Medical Center as a critical care nurse and a cardiac coordinator.
She was honored last year with the Pam Brock Woman of Courage award at the Women Against MS (WAMS) luncheon.
With her Type A personality, the resident of Green feels far more comfortable giving than receiving.
That's why she enlisted the talents of fellow quilter and co-worker Terri Brooks of Wadsworth to produce a quilt that will be auctioned at the May 11 WAMS luncheon.
Patti also pieced together a quilt for other MS patients to have a hand in.
Like Terri Brooks' bright offering, Patti's blanket also is a collage of purple, blue and green fabrics.
Curiously, it's not the bold prism of colors that's the draw here.
It's the handwritten messages she solicited from those forced to view life through the MS prism that are so compelling.
"I wanted to bring the human element into the quilt," suggests Patti, who got a strong assist with the handiwork from her sister-in-law, Terri Mackey of Akron.
"So, I gave our patients small squares of fabric and asked them to share how MS has affected their lives," Patti explains.
She told them to be as creative or as simple as they wanted.
"Some of the squares are purposefully left blank for members of the MS luncheon committee to add their thoughts."
The MS quilt is meaningful and emotional, for the participants, as well as for those of us who reside outside that world.
"I have more squares coming in every day," the woman with the sunny disposition informs.
"So, I'll do more quilts as long as MS leaves my hands alone."
Statistics indicate there are about 400,000 MS patients nationwide.Many more women than men are diagnosed with MS.
Nothing is predictable about the disease. Some cases are mild; others are severe. Fortunately, medications available since 1993 slow its progression. Most are injections.
"I take a shot of Copaxone every day," Patti says. "But what works for me may not work for someone else."
Patti sees a panoply of symptoms in the 800 MS patients who are treated by Dr. Timothy J. Carrabine, Oak Clinic director, and Dr. Christopher A. Sheppard, neurologist.
Oak Clinic, created after a gift from local philanthropists Jim and Vanita Oelschlager of Bath Township, is open to all MS patients, regardless of their ability to provide insurance or to pay.
While MS symptoms are often neurological in nature, vision, speech, walking, the bladder and sexual function can be affected.
"When I think back on it, I was having symptoms as early as in the '70s," Patti recalls. "Numbness, tingling, tripping. But there were no MRIs back then...
"I was told I was just stressed and doing too much. I did have two small kids, and I was actively involved in Boy Scouts and my church committees... For a while, I thought I was crazy."
Then doctors assigned a name to the unwanted intruder that refused to leave.
"I tell people that MS is not the end of your life, but to try to see it as a new beginning," analways-upbeat Patti advises.
"The disease makes you find out what your priorities are," she cautions. "Like you only have so much energy. Your energy may be gone by 10 a.m., 2 p.m. or 9 p.m. So, you must prioritize your day. Do what's the most important first... "
"You will live a normal life span, in most cases. But you will have limitations placed on you. Like you may not be able to tolerate heat or be able to take care of your house."
"MS," she adds knowingly, "is not impossible to live with; it's just hard to live with."
So, you adopt Patti's prayer and hope for the best.
Copyright © 2004, The Beacon Journal