Event works to educate those with disease on how to live normal, productive lives
Sunday, July 20, 2003
By Steve Gaines
The Associated Press
Victims of multiple sclerosis were empowering their minds Saturday.
Sixty people gathered at The Medical Center auditorium for the Multiple Sclerosis Academy to learn more about the disease and methods for coping. The event, which is in its first year, is put on by the Kentucky-Southeast Indiana Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
The academy is a program designed to educate and empower people who are interested in learning more about the disease. It provided lectures by professionals in the community on finances, physical education, career development and even a graduation ceremony.
After eight years of doctors finding themselves unable to determine what was wrong, Ron Herriford, 52, of Bowling Green was diagnosed with MS in 2001.
“Eight years ago, my feet just went numb and the feeling never came back,” he said. “I went eight years without knowing I had it, but the whole time I knew something was wrong.”
MS is damage to nerve fibers and their protective covering in the brain, spinal cords and eyes. The cause is unknown, but doctors suspect a virus or other infection attacks the immune system.
About 400,000 Americans, mostly women, have the disease, which usually strikes between the ages of 20 and 40. Symptoms of MS can include weakness, tremors, difficulty walking, blindness, incontinence and emotional problems.
Herriford, whose family has no history of the incurable disease, said that MS can drive patients crazy. He takes seven pills a day and is on chemotherapy.
“You don’t try and cure it, you just try and halt it, and that is what this class is about,” he said. “In my case they haven’t halted it, but they have showed it down. The more knowledge you have, the better you can deal with it.”
Herriford, who is able to drive and perform some other everyday tasks, is optimistic and believes a cure for MS will eventually be found.
“Our intention with the academy is to increase awareness of MS and empower people living with it to seek out resources on their own,” said Jeanette Bisig, regional manager for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. “Our mission is to end the devastating effects of MS, and we do that by offering these educational programs.”
Bisig said the academy, which is funded through a $5,000 educational grant, was created for people in rural, underserved communities who otherwise would have to drive to larger cities to get information.
Bisig said they know of 3,800 cases of MS in Kentucky, but they suspect that there may be as many as 6,000 cases.
Melissa Nador, 45, of Horse Cave found out that she had MS in 1999, and says that all she wants to do is see her 9-year-old son, Jacob, graduate from college.
“It was like a kick in the stomach because I knew there was no cure,” Nador said. “My son is the only thing that kept me going.”
Nador said that MS has robbed her of many things she used to be able to do.
“There are days when I don’t want to get out of bed, it’s that bad,” Nador said. “I can’t walk for very long and I can’t be out in the sun.”
Nador, who takes four pills a day, has even lost her short-term memory, but is optimistic and believes the academy will benefit her.
“I’ve learned that you need to eat right, you need to exercise,” she said. “God willing, I hope I beat it.”
Matt Smolen, 34, of Bowling Green found out last October that he has MS.
His mother, Fran Smolen, said that doctors think Matt, formerly of Colorado, had the disease four years before his diagnosis. Her son now lives with her.
“It’s been an adjustment,” Fran Smolen said. “It’s been good and bad, but I feel like I’ve gotten to know him because he has been gone so long. Matt was shocked when he found out because he didn’t know anything about MS.”
The Mediplex Rehabilitation Center, located at 1300 Campbell Lane, provides self-help groups every second Tuesday of the month at 6:30 p.m. in Classroom A. It is free and open to the public.
The academy will be in Mayfield in August and in Corbin and Somerset
in September. For more information, call the society at 800-873-6367 or
log on to their Web site at http://www.nmss.org/kyw.
Copyright © 2003, The Associated Press