More MS news articles for May 2001

Support group helps multiple sclerosis sufferers to cope

Saturday, May 26, 2001
Special to Handle Extra

Beth Dagastine gets calls at all hours of the day from people who need her help. The callers suffer from multiple sclerosis and sometimes are so upset they threaten suicide. Dagastine does her best to connect the caller with services that can help them.

Dagastine is the leader of Kootenai County's Multiple Sclerosis Association of America support group. Members of the group help each other survive with this debilitating disease, doing everything from remodeling homes to just listening.

Beth Dagastine provided the following information about her club.

Q. What does your club do?

A. The MSAA Support Group provides direct services -- including helping to find counselors or neurologists -- to multiple sclerosis patients and their families. The group does anything it can to help people with MS.

Q. How did it start?

A. John Hodson and his wife Ruth started MSAA in the '70s. Ruth was diagnosed with MS when she was 17 years old. MSAA was literally started at their kitchen table. It started as a support group among a few MS patients and grew into a national health organization.

Q. How many members do you have?

A. In the Northwest we have approximately 2,100 members and we are growing rapidly each day.

Q. What kinds of service opportunities exist for volunteers?

A. I have two other people who help me call individuals about meetings and other activities for MS patients. We are in need of volunteers for construction projects. MSAA does a lot of remodeling of patients' homes. We help to make their doors wider or build ramps up stairs. We also need volunteers to help provide transportation and other general assistance.

Q. How are you funded?

A. We are funded by private contributions and special events. Our largest fund-raiser is the "Christmas Canes for a Cause" in December. This July we are going to have a family day out at Kelly's in Stateline from 2 to 8 p.m. The cost to attend is $20 per family regardless of the size of the family. We'll have swing dancing, a dunk tank and a fishing pool for the kids. All the funds raised will go to MSAA.

Q. What is the impact of your services?

A. The Pathways Program helps people stay safely and independently in their own homes. My husband and I (know of) approximately 11 homes in the past six months that have received help. I enjoy doing this because I'm helping fellow MS patients. We put out a monthly newsletter that helps to bring a sense of community through reading about victories and challenges of others facing this chronic illness. The educational programs bring experts on MS, delivering up to date medical information. Social events give patients a chance to meet with their peers, often forming lifelong friendships. The support groups provide a way to share feelings and search for answers in a confidential setting.

Q. How has your club grown?

A. When I first started to come to this support group there were nine people. I started getting involved and got guest speakers to answer many questions we all had. Now there are approximately 75 people in the support group and we are continuing to grow.

Q. What additional services would you provide if you had the funding to do so?

A. I would find a way to visit those of us with MS who are alone and need someone else with this chronic illness to talk to. I talk to many people and just yak about anything and everything -- not always MS. It is so much easier to talk to someone with MS, because they understand what a person is going through.

So many times we hear that we "look so good." I just want tell them to look at my insides. Only someone with MS understands that. Also, more funding would allow us to make more homes handicap-accessible.

Q. What is your most underused service?

A. If anyone who has MS needs help with their home they just need to ask. The pathways for independence are very unused and that is what contributions made here go for. Also, few attend the free educational programs.

Q. How can people contact you if they need your services or want to join or donate time or money?

A. People can visit my Web site at or call me at (208) 773-9372. Donations can be made at any Washington Trust Bank just by saying it is for multiple sclerosis.