March 17, 2002
By Norberto Santana Jr. and Chris Moran
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITERS
CARLSBAD – Someday having multiple sclerosis may be like a bad allergy, easily controlled with a simple pill.
But until that day comes, friends and relatives of MS sufferers plan to keep walking to find a cure.
Yesterday, nearly 3,000 people came out to the Carlsbad Flower Fields for the MS Walk, an annual event that raises money and awareness for research on the disease and funds support programs for families of those afflicted with the condition. More than 40,000 people walk in similar events throughout the country each year.
"You see the outpouring, the enthusiasm, the support," said Allan Shaw, president of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society San Diego Chapter. "It gives people hope."
Shaw figured the Carlsbad event had raised $295,000. Today, event organizers expect 5,000 people to converge on San Diego's Seaport Village for another MS Walk.
At the Plunge in Mission Beach yesterday, about 50 people registered for the fifth annual Water Walk, the aqua version of the terrestrial event.
Swimmers bounced in place, stroked and walked pool lengths and even dragged those not able to swim. They were accompanied by the San Diego State women's water polo team and booming, upbeat music from a deejay.
At poolside, they left an assortment of canes, wheelchairs and what Karen Cooper of Pacific Beach called her "off-road vehicle," an electric cart.
"When you're in the water, you're like everyone else," said Cooper, who was diagnosed with MS in 1983. "I never participated in the MS Walk other than to give money before. It didn't seem right to go and ride in my chair."
It's difficult for those with MS to participate in the larger event because MS causes heat intolerance, making it difficult to exercise. An MS water aerobics instructor started the Water Walk in 1998 so the people in her class could participate instead of just sponsoring her. The Water Walk raised $14,000 last year.
Multiple sclerosis is a neurological disease that causes the body's immune system to attack itself. People with MS often experience numbness in limbs and extreme fatigue. Simple motor skills – like walking or holding a coffee mug – become more and more difficult. Other symptoms include bladder problems, double vision or temporary blindness.
For many, the disease is misdiagnosed or progresses slowly without being noticed.
Then comes the day the disease is diagnosed. Some people lose their jobs because employers get uneasy. Others have marriages break up. Many family members feel helpless because they don't know how to help.
"They can't do much," said Rancho Bernardo resident Tricia Chandler of the toll on family members. "It's the uncertainty of it."
What they can do is walk.
With team names like "4 R Loved 1's," "Elite Feet" and "Dangerous Curves," walkers got off to an early start yesterday by 8 a.m. taking off for a 5K walk around the flower fields. Some went around twice. After finishing their trek, many stuck around for lunch, which was sponsored by many area companies. During the two-day event, Pizza Hut will give out more than 9,000 pizzas.
Chandler and two friends with MS lead "Team Hope," which is one of the largest family teams participating in the MS Walk. Last year, the group raised $30,000.
Despite the frustrations of the disease, many participants say the progress in drug research is uplifting. Six years ago, there was no drug for controlling the effects of MS. Today, there are four.
At the event, more than 100 employees from Elan Pharmaceuticals were out walking and expected to raise $50,000. Diane Goostree, who led the walking team, said Elan is developing a new drug for multiple sclerosis, Antegren, which is nearing the last stage of human testing before being submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for approval.
Beyond such private sector efforts, Shaw said the San Diego chapter of the MS Society spends 40 percent of its $2.2 million annual budget for research efforts at numerous San Diego laboratories such as the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. The national organization also recently doled out more than $1 million to local research institutes, he said.
Shaw said as many as 5,000 people in San Diego County suffer from MS.
Until a cure is found, people like Juanita Hamilton get strength from events like the MS Walk.
"It makes me feel positive," said Hamilton, 52. "Maybe, just maybe,
there will be enough money for them to find a cure or find something that
stops the progression."
© Copyright 2002 Union-Tribune Publishing Co