More MS news articles for Oct 2001

Running strong

Friday, October 5, 2001

Amanda Mott is used to the wide-eyed looks. People can't believe it when she tells them she has multiple sclerosis. They wonder how she's able to wake up at 5 a.m. two days a week to get dressed for a 5- or 6-mile run near her home in St. Paul's Macalester-Groveland neighborhood. On weekends, she's up at 7 a.m. to put in between 16 and 20 miles.

There is more disbelief when she reveals that she's preparing to run in Sunday's 26-mile Twin Cities Marathon.

The 20th annual race through streets in St. Paul and Minneapolis is just another item on Mott's busy schedule to strike down false perceptions of multiple sclerosis, a disease that attacks the nervous system and can lead to permanent disability.

"I tell my husband (Tim) sometimes that MS might slow me down, but it won't take me down," said Mott, who will be among 9,000 runners in the marathon, which starts at the Metrodome and ends at the state Capitol.

Mott, 38, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in April 2000, several months after the birth of her 2-year-old daughter, Anna Lee. Mott began to feel numbness in her legs, the same sensation she felt shortly after the birth of her 5-year-old son, Parker.

After Parker's birth, Mott assumed the occasional numbness from her waist down was the result of the pounding she took in a kick-boxing class. The numbness went away and didn't concern her again until after Anna Lee was born. Mott went to see a doctor and was referred to a specialist, Dr. Gary Birnbaum, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Treatment and Research Center at the Minneapolis Clinic of Neurology in Golden Valley.

Mott underwent a magnetic resonance imaging exam and CT scan, which revealed brain lesions and tissue bacteria in the nervous system, early warning signs of multiple sclerosis. The news was devastating to Mott, who lost her father to the disease in 1986.

"I was 23 when my father died," Mott said. "I watched him struggle with MS for most of my life. He was 46 when he died. Ten years after he was diagnosed, he was gone. When I found out about me, I was worried about my children. Will they see me go through the same thing?"

About 400,000 people in the United States have some form of multiple sclerosis, according to the Mayo Clinic. Medical researchers have yet to find a cure for the disease, which generally is found in people between the ages of 20 and 40. Women are twice as likely to be affected as men.

Multiple sclerosis is caused by inflammation of tissue in the nervous system, which can block or delay nerve impulses traveling back and forth from the brain. Damage to tissues can slow or block muscle coordination, visual sensation and other nerve signals, and in severe cases, lead to paralysis or permanent disabilities.

Mott said she doesn't experience some of the serious effects of multiple sclerosis, but Birnbaum immediately put her on a treatment program that includes daily injections of Copaxone, one of the few drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration to fight the disease. Birnbaum said Capoxone "can alter the course of the disease and have a positive effect on the inflammation of tissue in the brain and the overall neurological system."

Birnbaum also recommended that Mott keep busy.

"It's unusual for me to have a patient running in a marathon, but I think it's wonderful," Birnbaum said of Mott. "I enthusiastically encourage patients with MS to do as much exercising as they can -- for the physical and psychological benefits. MS can be a very upsetting disease."

Sunday's race will be Mott's third marathon and her first competition since she was diagnosed. She ran in the 1998 Grandma's Marathon in Duluth and the 1995 Twin Cities Marathon. Mott took up running as a full-time hobby in 1994. She was adamant about not giving up running, hiking, camping or any other outdoor activity after Birnbaum told her she had multiple sclerosis.

"The Copaxone really has helped me," she said. "It's a huge coup for me to be able to do this marathon and maybe inspire some people with MS. I have to be careful sometimes with dehydration when I run. During the summer when it was hot, it took me longer to recover. Other than that, I feel pretty energized about my condition."

Because of her father, Mott is well-informed about multiple sclerosis. After her diagnosis, she did more research and regularly visits a Web site ( to gain new information about the illness and interact with patients across the country in chat rooms.

With no cure for multiple sclerosis, Birnbaum is unsure how long he'll be able to give Mott good reports on her health. He said the disease has varying effects on people. Birnbaum advises people in the early stages of multiple sclerosis to undergo MRI exams once a year to monitor improvements or setbacks.

Mott is required to have an MRI exam every six months. She had one Wednesday and will meet with Birnbaum on Monday to learn the results.

"Amanda could have difficulty in the future, but I'm very encouraged by her progress," Birnbaum said. "Not everyone with MS will have a major impairment of functions."

Mott gets the chance to prove that Sunday.

Ray Richardson can be reached at

© 2001 PioneerPlanet