More MS news articles for Aug 2001

Local woman helps MS sufferers - just like herself

August 17, 2001

I had a long, informative talk this past week with Sally Van Ormer, an instrumental force in the local multiple sclerosis support group for people with the disease and their families and friends.

"MS is strange," Sally told me. "It has to do with the 'sheaths' at the endings of nerves --- sort of like the coverings on electrical wires. For some reason, these sheaths deteriorate in people who have MS, causing different reactions in different people."

Many have obvious symptoms like losing the ability to walk or control other muscles. One of the group's members, for example, has lost the function of his legs and uses an electric scooter to get around. Another is a retired World War II and Korean War veteran who discovered he had MS when he lost his equilibrium and fell off a ship he was working on in a Navy yard years ago. Others MS sufferers have more subtle symptoms.

"Take me, for example," says Sally without blinking an eye. "I'm 60 now and have had MS since I was a young woman. In me, MS makes my speech thick. Some people have assumed I'm drunk when they heard me talk."

One thing that's pretty constant about people with MS is an unusual sensitivity to heat, Sally says. "That's why we try to schedule our meetings as early in the day as possible."

"Almost everyone gets extremely depressed when they learn they have MS," she added. "One young woman I've been talking to a lot lately has taken it pretty hard.

"That's why going to these meetings are so important. People can look around them and see that there are other people going through what they've been experiencing ---- many of them in even worse shape than they are and still doing fine."

Sometimes tough love, rather than TLC, is the indicated prescription.

"One member of our group was wallowing in too much self-pity. One day we all just told him to 'quit bitching and get on with it!,' she smiles, remembering. "It helped."

Not all the pain group members feel is directly related to the disease.

"One woman's husband up and left her. He said he couldn't deal with her having MS anymore. So much for 'in sickness and in health,' I guess," Sally laughs. "We'd also like people to know that we don't just have meetings. We also take trips together from time to time. We must make for quit a sight!"

I asked Sally what motivates her to do what she does.

"You've got to help people in this world. I worked for 35 years as a medical professional. I always tried to treat each person as an individual human being, not as a meaningless name on a chart."

The Ramona chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society meets every other Tuesday at Denny's restaurant (1910 Main St.), right here in town.

They'll even come get you if you need a ride. Give Sally a call at (760) 789-8256 for exact dates and times. There's another, larger, meeting every Wednesday at the Escondido Joslyn Center (760-839-4688).

"They get a bigger turnout," Sally says. "Some people like that, others like the cozy little group we have here in Ramona."

That's all he wrote. See you around.

Charles Carr is a free-lance columnist for the North County Times. He can be reached at or (760) 749-0409 with your comments or column items.