May 30, 2004
For Anamaria Hurtado Grabovenko, December 2001 represents a euphoric time in her life.
Her only child, Lia, was born, fulfilling a longing for parenthood for her and her husband, Gregory.
But Grabovenko had no idea of the difficulty that lay just ahead.
"All was bliss until Feb. 16, when I woke up ... with double vision, which lasted five days. One month later, I experienced vertigo, lasting for eight days," said Grabovenko, executive vice president of the Lynbrook Chamber of Commerce, who also lives in the village. "On Mother's Day, May 12, I lost all sensory feeling on the left side of my body, and my balance was extremely off."
A frightening diagnosis
Up to then, Grabovenko, 30, said doctors had told her the symptoms were from hormonal imbalances. But soon after the Mother's Day incident, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a chronic and progressive illness affecting the body's nervous system. "I had absolutely no idea what that meant and really was given no explanation of what to expect," she said.
Grabovenko was immediately hospitalized and treated with heavy doses of steroids. But once she was released, she said she went on "a mission to find a new doctor who specialized in MS." She crossed paths in October 2002 with Dr. Saud A. Sadiq, the director of the Multiple Sclerosis Research & Treatment Center at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in Manhattan.
Since Sadiq's care has given her strength to live a full life, she said, she organized a fund-raiser held Monday to show her gratitude and hope. The event at the Westbury Manor, she said, was a tribute to Sadiq and a push to find a cure.
"More than 100 people attended, and we raised $23,000, all of which will go to research," said Grabovenko, adding that she has planned another, smaller, fund-raiser at her day-care program in Lynbrook, Mimi's Creative Kids, for Sept. 18.
For Sadiq, who also teaches at Columbia University and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in Manhattan, MS "can be devastating, causing one to lose control of bodily functions or to become a quadriplegic.
A common disability
"Before AIDS, MS was the commonest cause of disability in young adults after trauma," he said. The illness affects 400,000 Americans and 2.5 million people worldwide, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Grabovenko never reached the harsh manifestations of MS mentioned by Sadiq, but nevertheless, her symptoms were devastating. "I fell twice with my daughter in my arms and badly dislocated my shoulder," she said, "and for a long time I feared to carry her far or on stairs."
She said she did not begin to feel better until Sadiq began treating her. But she couldn't get an appointment with him for five months.
"I saw seven different neurologists before October , and the ones who weren't heartless were the opposite extreme and made me feel sick and needy. They all said ... I would be tripping on my feet forever," she said.
She was disheartened
Grabovenko said that when her date with Sadiq arrived, she was so discouraged she seriously considered canceling it. "But my husband convinced me to give him a try," she said. "Thank goodness, I listened."
Sadiq, who heads the hospital's Department of Neurology, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, is considered an international expert on MS.
"He has the rare gift of having an amazing bedside manner and a huge intellect that relieves the suffering for people with multiple sclerosis," said former Oyster Bay councilwoman Bonnie Eisler, one of Sadiq's patients. "His research is on the cutting edge. If anybody can find a cure, it will be him."
For Grabovenko, meeting Sadiq meant new hope, she said. "He taught me ... to re-teach the muscles of my legs. When he tested me at my next appointment in December, I was able ... to walk a straight line, balance on one foot and even hop, things that I couldn't do two months earlier."
Grabovenko, who is on site every weekday to help supervise and care for more than 70 children, is full of optimism for herself and other MS sufferers.
Upbeat and energetic
"More than ever, she is the Energizer Bunny, for the school, the village, or some MS event," said co-worker Christabelle Cruz of Franklin Square.
Grabovenko's husband a Carle Place mortgage banker, said his wife is so upbeat, "it is almost as if she doesn't have the illness."
The entrepreneur's mother, Anamarie Hurtado of Freeport, said she is very proud of her daughter "and especially how she is handling this latest challenge in her life. She has turned having MS into an opportunity to help others."
But it isn't easy, Grabovenko said, with no indication of complaint in her voice. She does physical therapy and takes injections three days a week and takes six- to seven-hour stints of intravenous treatment of immunoglobulin on two consecutive days a month.
"Dr. Sadiq does not believe that having MS means inevitable mobility
limitations," Grabovenko said. And neither does she.
Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.