All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for October 2003

Teachers team up to battle MS

50-mile walk to raise nearly $10K

Tuesday, October 7, 2003
Lisa B. Deaderick
Public Opinion

Julie Barrick was at her son's soccer game in 2002 when she began losing sight in her left eye. She could see the outline of a person's head, but not their face. She also had numbness on the right side of her body.

Those were the first signs she had multiple sclerosis.

Jan Wolfe and her husband, Steven, went to the library at Shippensburg University to read up on MS after he was diagnosed with the disease in 1989. She said they both sat in the library and cried.

This weekend, Barrick and Wolfe plan to walk 50 miles in the MS Challenge Walk 2003 in Philadelphia.

"I'm doing it because my husband has multiple sclerosis and my sister-in-law," said Wolfe, a second-grade teacher at James Burd Elementary School in Shippensburg. "But thankfully, his is slow-progressing. Probably, if you saw him walking around, you wouldn't know he had it."

When Barrick was diagnosed in April of this year and heard that her fellow teacher was looking for a partner in the walk, she decided to sign up, too.

"At that time, I was like 'Yes, I am bound and determined. Nothing's going to keep me down,'" she said.

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, MS is thought to be an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system -- brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. A fatty tissue called myelin surrounds the nerve fibers and helps them send electrical impulses. In MS, the tissue is lost and those impulses can't be sent.

The exact cause of MS is unknown, though it is sometimes linked to genetics, gender or things in the environment. The disease tends to affect three times as many women as men, and people are usually diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, said Kerry Wevodau, director of development for the central Pennsylvania chapter of the society.

About 400,000 Americans acknowledge having MS -- including 4,600 in central Pennsylvania.

Wevodau said the central Pennsylvania chapter usually conducts 125 programs throughout the year to help people with MS. There are educational as well as social programs, such as support group meetings and movie nights.

Barrick participates in the central Pennsylvania chapter and said it has helped her deal with the illness, although it was difficult in the beginning.

"It was hard, especially not knowing what was wrong with me," she said. "At first I thought, 'Oh my God, I'm gonna end up in a wheelchair,' and I didn't want my kids to see me like that."

Explaining it to her children -- Rayne, her seventh-grade son, and Hillary, her third-grade daughter -- was even harder.

"The first thing they wanted to know was if I was going to die," Barrick said, dabbing at her tear-rimmed eyes with balled-up tissues. Fortunately, she and her husband were able to explain to them that her form of MS was the slow-progressing kind, which meant she probably wouldn't have serious problems for decades.

Wolfe and her husband have five grown children, so their experience was a little different because the children were watching him run up and down a basketball court for a while. After he was diagnosed, he decided he wasn't going to put off becoming a basketball referee and took his test for the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.

"My husband said that the biggest change in his life is that he doesn't put anything off. If there's something he wants to do, he does it now," Wolfe said.

For the three-day MS Challenge Walk, they each had to raise $1,500 through donations. The money goes toward continued research to find a cure for the disease. Barrick and Wolfe decided they wanted to raise twice that much so they hit up people they knew, had a bake sale, candle sale and dress down day at work. Wolfe has raised $3,395 and Barrick has close to $6,000.

They started training together in June by walking four miles each day. By August they were up to six miles a day and now they walk between 20 to 24 miles during the week and 15 miles at once on the weekend.

The challenge walk starts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on steps made famous in the film "Rocky," starring Sylvester Stallone.

MS has been a blow to both families, but they say they feel fortunate to be able to continue with their normal lives, for the most part. Wolfe says her husband has to think about where he places his feet when he walks and Barrick has to endure weekly injections.

"We're very lucky," Wolfe said. "A lot of people, this isn't the way it goes."

"I do a lot of praying and have a lot of faith that whatever happens, I'll be able to handle it," Barrick said.


To donate money to the MS Challenge Walk 2003, visit and click on MS Challenge Walk. Each donation has to be under a walker's name. Julie Barrick and Jan Wolfe, second-grade teachers at James Burd Elementary School in Shippensburg, say people can make donations under either name.

The walk begins on Friday with walkers pounding out 21 miles the first day, 19 "hilly" miles the second day and 10 miles on the final day for a total of 50 miles.

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Copyright © 2003, Public Opinion