October 3, 2003
By Tracy Idell Hamilton
Express-News Staff Writer
Cpl. Annette B. Johnson of the Bexar County Sheriff's Department was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in April of this year.
Saturday, 24 of her co-workers — including Sheriff Ralph Lopez — will tie orange bandannas around their heads and join more than 2,000 other cyclists for 150 mile, two-day ride to Corpus Christi to raise money for the Lone Star chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Johnson, who turned 39 this week, is still on the job. Her MS — , an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system — was diagnosed after recurring migraines and blurred vision turned, in one frightening day, into almost total blindness. An MRI discovered lesions on her brain, a hallmark of MS. She was put under the care “of a wonderful neurologist, Dr. Ann Bass,” has regained her sight, and is now in an FDA-backed experimental treatment program.
She inscribed a personal message of thanks on every one of those 24 bandannas. The wearers are her “Pedal Partners” in the ride.
“I didn't even know we had a team,” Johnson said. “I heard about a meeting over the P.A. system and went to it. I was just stunned. It means so much to me. But they're not riding just for me. They're riding to find a cure.”
Toward that end, each cyclist pledges to raise at least $200 for the ride. Many raise much more—between $1,000 and $25,000, according to Roy Rangel, the Lone Star chapter's vice president and executive director. This weekend the Lone Star chapter will make $750,000 from this ride, one of three it sponsors each year. The take from all three rides tops $8 million, Rangel said.
This is the first year that the Sheriff's Department has done the ride as a group, and team captain Deputy Chief Keith L. Charlton said he's incredibly gratified to see how many people signed up.
“The bonding has just been tremendous,” Charlton said. “It's boosted morale among the entire office, too, not just among riders.”
He thinks even more would have signed up if they'd had more time to prepare.
“It was sort of last-minute this year, but next year we're going to plan ahead. I know we'll have many more riders.” Deputy Jason Garcia, who traded his mountain bike for a road bike for this trip, is riding to do a good deed and challenge himself. Having Johnson as a “Pedal Partner” reminds him that he's lucky.
“This challenge is a fraction of what people with multiple sclerosis have to deal with,” he said.
Thanks to years of research, funded in part by events like this one, what most MS sufferers must deal with these days are quality-of-life issues, Rangel said. MS is hardly a death sentence—even a wheelchair is no longer inevitable.
There are now five different drugs on the market that slow down the symptoms of MS, and research is continuing. Symptoms can include fatigue, blurred or double vision and numbness or tingling in the limbs. MS is usually diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50. The disease primarily affects women, but Johnson is quick to point out that it can attack anyone at any time.
“It crosses all boundaries,” she said, “gender, race and class. Anyone can get it.
“This ride is important because it raises money, but it also raises
awareness,” she continued. “I had never heard of it. I could have gone
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