All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for December 2003

She gives unselfishly, despite daily toll disease takes on her

Monday, November 24, 2003
Linda Lisanti
The Pennsylvania Express-Times

Like the crayons and markers she helps to produce, Doris Dzienis tries to color the world with good deeds and a bright smile.

The plant administrative coordinator at Binney & Smith -- makers of Crayola products in Forks Township -- said she has always had the desire to help others.

As a child, Dzienis said, she often spent time with the widows in her Bethlehem neighborhood and noticed how much they looked forward to her visits.

"I saw then how easily you could help someone just by giving of yourself," she said.

For the last 17 years, Dzienis has focused on helping to battle multiple sclerosis. MS is a disease that affects the central nervous system and can cause slurred speech, tremors, stiffness and bladder control problems, as well as a loss of balance and coordination.

Dzienis became an activist after a friend of hers was diagnosed with MS. At first, she joined the woman on MS walks around the Lehigh Valley, raising money to find a cure. In time, she also accompanied her friend to support groups where she listened to other MS sufferers share their stories.

"It was scary," Dzienis recalled. "None of the drugs were available back then. These people were badly affected. It was scary for us both."

In 1997, Dzienis got news she never expected.

After a night of dining and dancing at a banquet, the Lower Nazareth Township woman awoke with severe muscle weakness. She couldn't walk.

Doctors told her she had MS.

While she admits she was worried, Dzienis said she did not react as most people do when faced with the prognosis. Instead of crying, she laughed.

"It was either Lyme disease or MS. I don't know anything about Lyme disease, but I know everything about MS," she said of her reaction.

The first months were the most difficult.

Dzienis' right side was paralyzed. She temporarily lost her vision in her right eye and hearing in her right ear. She lost her short-term memory and had to rely on a walker to get around.

Dzienis said her condition improved after she started on a drug regimen. Now, the 37-year-old goes through different stages each day.

Some mornings, she wakes and her right leg is dragging. Other days, she has severe fatigue.

"The disease affects each person differently. That's why it's so hard to diagnose and to treat," she said. "You have good days and bad days."

No matter which type of day it is, though, Dzienis said, she tries to push through with a positive attitude.

"The mind is the most powerful tool to heal," she said. "Once I can make that leap to get out of bed in the morning, I know I'll be OK."

Instead of sitting around the house moping, she gets up, does yoga, lifts weights or meditates.

She makes it a point to walk every day. It helps her prepare for the MS walks she still participates in with the friend that got her started.

Dzienis also has started the Colorful Crusaders walking team with her Binney & Smith colleagues. The team has raised $15,000 for MS research.

This year alone, the team brought in $3,800.

"People know how important this is to me and they want to help. This is a way they can," she said. "I am very grateful for all their support."

Dzienis has not let her disease get in the way of her volunteer work. She helps to run her company's United Way campaign and plans Binney & Smith's annual day of caring.

She also co-chairs the Lehigh Valley chapter of the Friends with MS support group.

Binney & Smith recently recognized Dzienis' efforts and named her its volunteer of the year. A few months later, she was chosen as one of Lehigh Valley Hospital's Spirit of Women winners.

Spirit of Women recognizes ordinary women who do extraordinary things. Winners are chosen on a local level and then compete nationally.

"I was surprised," Dzienis said. "It was an unbelievable honor. It was very heartwarming."

Linda Hamilton, Binney & Smith's volunteer coordinator, nominated Dzienis for both honors. Hamilton said Dzienis stands out as someone special.

While some of Dzienis' deeds are part of her job, she goes above and beyond, Hamilton said.

"She never says no," Hamilton added. "If there's an activity or event going on, Doris will be there."

Hamilton said Dzienis has made it a part of her life to give, even in the face of adversity.

"She is always there to give of herself. She puts herself above others. She's always been like that," Hamilton said. "She's an inspiration to me."

Dzienis said the recognition has been nice, but it's not the reason why she helps others.

Volunteering, she said, actually helps her to forget that she, too, is a person in need.

"I'm not one to whine and sulk. It doesn't get you anywhere," Dzienis said. "I have a positive attitude. If you can find the good in yourself and other people, you'll be a happier person."

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