More MS news articles for Oct 2001

Residents with multiple sclerosis find support in aquatics class

Sunday, October 14 2001
By Thomas J. McFeeley
Staff Writer

STAMFORD - Marva Llewellyn and Priscilla Keitt walk in parallel lines in the chest-high water. Their gentle steps cause a soft ripple in the calm, stained-glass reflection before them.

Keitt, not as comfortable as Llewellyn in the water at this height, turns on her left toe to walk a straight line back toward the shallow end. Looking over her shoulder, Llewellyn does not hesitate to turn herself, to once again walk with her friend.

While the Stamford residents walk side-by-side in a pool twice a week, the same analogy can be used in life.

The women have multiple sclerosis. It brings them together for one hour twice a week in the pool at the Stamford YMCA. They also run an MS awareness group, which meets monthly.

Both gatherings tend to suffer from poor attendance.

"A lot of people put their MS in the closet," said Keitt, who works at Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. in Stamford. "It doesn't have to be that way."

Their friendship is evident to anyone near them during their class last week. While Llewellyn, a mother of two, might turn around to walk beside her friend, she'll also push her from time to time.

"Come on Priscilla, I've already been down there and back," she said as she paced slowly toward the end of the pool, holding her arms out level with the water while holding a pair of floating dumbbell-like objects.

"Maybe I can blame it on the water being too hot," she said of the 83-degree pool, prompting a laugh from Llewellyn and instructor Lorraine Zegibe.

"Don't talk, concentrate," Zegibe tells Keitt to get her to focus on the exercise.

While Zegibe oversees Keitt and Llewellyn, Connie Vacca helped her friend Hareesh Rawal do a series of exercises at the edge of the pool.

As the class concludes, Vacca assisted Rawal up the stairs into a wheelchair.

"It's a great group we have," Zegibe said, drying off after the class. "It serves a purpose, to help with muscle development and balance and things like that. But the social element is the one that stands out to me. We have a good time here."

Last week, the group did not disband after its Thursday class. After drying off and changing, the class headed to a local restaurant to wish Rawal well. In a few days, he is to leave for his annual trip to India.

Candito Fontanez recently joined the class after moving to Stamford from Fairfield. A similar class there was somewhat larger, he said. Though he enjoys the sessions, Fontanez said he wishes others with MS would join the fun.

"When you get this disease, it tends to be isolating," he said. "But when you're here, you can let loose. When you get up in the morning, not feeling great, it may not be easy to get up. But once you're here, you have a good time and you feel better later for having exercised."

The class meets from 10 to 11 a.m. at the Stamford YMCA. For more information, call 357-7000. For information on the MS Support Group, call 921-1984 or 353-9708. The group meets the final Friday of each month, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Stamford Government Center. Family members are welcome.

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