Tuesday, October 15, 2002
By Marty Primeau
Like most siblings, Kristy Wilkerson and her sisters have shared many things.
Unfortunately, that list includes multiple sclerosis.
Wilkerson, accompanied by three of her sisters - told her family's story at the recent Women Against MS luncheon.
The Amarillo mother of two said she was only 12 years old when her oldest sister began having symptoms.
"I really didn't know what MS was," Wilkerson said.
"I had that blind faith that children have that whatever it was, there would be a medicine that would treat it and make it go away."
But it didn't.
In 1994, another sister was diagnosed with MS. And four years ago, Wilkerson discovered that she, too, had the disease.
On a family trip to Disneyland with her husband and children, Wilkerson barely was able to write her name. Her feet and legs would suddenly go numb.
Her symptoms got worse.
"I spent many hours on the Internet attempting to self-diagnose my condition," she said. "At one point, I had myself almost convinced that I had some disorder caused by leaning on the armrest of an airplane."
Thinking back, Wilkerson realizes she was in denial.
But soon she could no longer slice fruit for her son and daughter.
"I thought I was losing my mind," she said. "Symptoms emerged randomly with no regard to the responsibilities I had to my 3- and 5-year-old children.
"I was a young mom, enjoying a glorious life with my husband, Mike. This was not in the plan."
However, Wilkerson's outlook is positive.
New drugs are being tested, she said.
Twenty years ago, her oldest sister waited six weeks for results of a spinal tap before doctors could confirm that she had MS.
Oral steroids, accompanied by unpleasant side effects, were used to alleviate symptoms.
Today, doctors diagnose MS using an MRI procedure. Interferon medications - commonly called the ABC drugs - help decrease the amount of scarring.
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks
the central nervous system, affecting the brain and spinal cord. The progress,
severity and specific symptoms of the disease cannot be predicted.
"We've witnessed what research money has done," Wilkerson said.
She and members of her family are taking part in a study at the University of California at San Francisco.
"They're hoping to discover specific gene markers that may promote ineffective immune responses that take place with multiple sclerosis," she said.
Meanwhile, all three sisters stay busy raising their children.
Wilkerson also teaches part time at West Texas A&M University.
"Managing stress is important," she said. "I have two young kids who
are involved in a lot of activities. And I get great support from family
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