Guest column

People with MS thrive with help, wait for cure

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My ankle turned and I landed in the bushes. Four people were there in seconds to help. True, I was outside our church but this has been my experience for as long as I can remember. I fall, people help. Embarrassment happens but I move on.

About 12 years ago, I wrote a column about falling in a crosswalk in downtown Columbus. The editor titled it The people of Columbus are still picking me up. This is true literally and figuratively. Strangers helped me in that crosswalk the same as my friends did last month. I'm convinced people are kindhearted and when they are able, choose to help others.

Often people aren't sure when and how to help. These strangers and friends who helped me followed their instincts. Our attitude is one thing we can control and makes a difference in tense situations. I'm always appreciative of any help that comes my way making it easier on everyone.

Most of those I know with Multiple Sclerosis, like me, have led active and independent lives.

An MS diagnosis can knock the breath out of us and we wonder, "What's next?" We eventually learn it's time to ask for help whether it be information or a helping hand. In time we realize life goes on and MS isn't always the first topic in conversation. Adapt becomes our middle name and we begin to see how to do most everything we choose but in a different way. Some things must be shelved as not worthy of our time, too risky or labor intensive.

When I was diagnosed with MS in 1987, there were no what we call "disease modifying" drugs proven to slow the progression of this neurological disease. There was no Internet and very few books published on living with the disease. So I muddled through like thousands of others had for many years.

Today someone newly diagnosed could easily become overwhelmed with information and his or her "what's next?" takes on new meaning. We learn to weed out what works for us and learn how to get through in our own way; on our own path because each person's MS is different. Each person is different.

James Rhodes, 43, of Powell, is a state-certified referee for high school basketball and football games. He was an amateur bodybuilder preparing for a 2005 body-building competition in New York when he experienced his first symptoms. Debilitating fatigue struck and next he suffered a stroke. This led to a lot of tests and his official diagnosis of MS. He had four months of rehabilitation.

Did he fall down and not want to get up? Or did he get up and let his friends and family help him and stand by him? He is so grateful for the latter experience. The support of his family, especially his wife, Kymberly, who has been by his side through the good and the bad times, has made all his struggles bearable.

He continues his role as a referee but took a step down in responsibilities at his workplace. He and his wife have five children between them and take each day at a time.

Thankfully, people like James and I have the National MS Society. Because of valuable research, there are now eight ADA-approved MS drugs with more on the horizon every year. Research is costly. MS is a chronic, often disabling and unpredictable disease of the central nervous system with no known cause or cure. Theory is if we find a cause, the cure would follow.

It's not known why Ohio has a high prevalence rate of MS but the MS Society is finding out by funding more than $6.3 million in critical MS research at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Clinic Foundation and the Ohio State University. Progress has been made toward finding ways to improve symptoms and restore function.

The more than 20,000 Ohioans we know have MS have a voice speaking for them with the Ohio Buckeye Chapter and two other Ohio chapters of the National MS Society. I volunteer with them to help give a face to MS and to speak for those who cannot. Volunteers and staff are busy year-round planning activities, contacting legislators, advocating for those of us with MS.

March is MS Awareness Month. There are at least 20,000 stories in Ohio that I could tell about living with MS. That number increases when including their families, friends and coworkers. MS affects them all.

For more information, call 1-800-FIGHTMS or go to MSohiobuckeye.org

Guest columnist Liz Thompson is a Grove City resident. Reach her at LizT911@gmail. com.

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