All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for March 2004

Friendly competition to pay dividends in fight against MS

Feb 27, 2004
Steve Ferris

Jim Bittner and BJ Plavi will spend this weekend confined in a jail cell while Jim Santilli and Kerry McCormick spend three days on a rooftop starting Sunday.

Bittner and Plavi have not run afoul of the law and Santilli and McCormick aren't roofing contractors.

What they are doing are stunts in a friendly competition to raise money for research into a cure for multiple sclerosis, a nerve disease that affects people close to these men.

Bittner, a volunteer in the Uniontown Fire Department, has been friends with Susan and Alvin Sapp for the 10 years he has been a firefighter. Alvin Sapp is also a volunteer and his wife, Susan, volunteers her time to help the department run the department's bingos at the social hall and works in the kitchen.

Three years ago, Susan, who is a nurse, was diagnosed with MS.

"I thought I hurt my back," she said. "My one side went numb and I had a hard time walking. I've had to adjust my lifestyle because I get tired easy. I have good and bad days, but it's good now."

Santilli's mother has lived with MS for more than 20 years.

"Mom can't use her legs. Her hands are weak," Santilli said. "This is my way of showing my mother that I care and maybe raise enough money so other families don't have to go through what my family has gone through."

He owns the Belmont Inn and this will be the 13th year he has participated in the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's UGLY (Understanding Generous Loveable You) Bartender contest.

This is the fourth year he and his buddy McCormick will camp out on the roof of the bar on Barton Mill Road in South Union Township to raise money for the MS Society.

They will "just live up there" for 72 hours from 6 p.m. Sunday to 6 p.m. Wednesday, he said.

While this will only be the second year the fire department has been involved in the contest, which is not limited to bars and restaurants, the firefighters have proven to be more than worthy opponents.

The department dethroned the Belmont as Fayette County's top MS fundraiser last year by collecting $22,000.

The Belmont, which raised $18,700, had been the county champion for the previous 11 years. Darby's Pub and Restaurant raised $9,000 for the cause last year.

"Just those three in the Uniontown area raised that much money," Santilli said, noting that the total amount raised in the county was more than $55,000.

The Belmont has raised more than $100,000 since 1991, its first year in the contest, and has finished first or second in the 11-county Allegheny District Chapter of the National MS Society for the last six or seven years, he said.

His one-year total in 2001 was the third highest in the country, he said.

This year's contest runs through March 22.

Santilli said all the money raised goes to a good cause, but he enjoys competing with other establishments and the fire department.

Bittner and fellow firefighter Plavi will be locked in an improvised jail cell made of 2-by-4s and PVC pipe at the intersection of Fayette and Morgantown streets from 6 p.m. today to 6 p.m. Sunday.

"We'll stay in for a full 48 hours straight through," Bittner said.

It all started one day last summer, he said he was joking about how long he could stay in the cell, which was used in last year's fundraiser, and Plavi offered to join him.

They will sleep on cots and supporters will bring them food, he said

It hasn't yet been decided if one man will stay in the cell while the other collects money from passersby or if both will remain incarcerated while others collect money.

Bittner and Santilli said they were hoping for bad weather because it would make people more sympathetic and generous.

"I was hoping for bad weather. It doesn't matter. Rain, snow or sleet, we're still going to do it," Bittner said.

"We tend to raise more money when the weather is bad. I think people feel bad for us," Santilli said.

"People think we come down at night, but don't. We each have our own tents."

He said he and McCormick have endured below freezing temperatures, rain, snow and even sunburn to raise money for the MS Society.

The money is needed to fund research and help families with the expenses of caring for a loved one who has the debilitating disease, Santilli said.

He said the Allegheny chapter has more than 4,900 clients. Prescription medication is the largest expense, but the organization couldn't afford to assist with those costs, he said. The chapter will help pay for wheelchairs, handicap access and some expenses.

Santilli said his mother and father celebrated their 50th anniversary last month.

Bittner said Sapp has faced MS with courage.

"She's been strong the whole time. We've always been real good friends. When she decided to start doing fundraising, I just wanted to help out," he said.

"I thought it was very nice of them," Sapp said. "They'll actually be in the cell. They wanted to do something different."

Copyright © 2004, The Herald Standard