Walkers set out to raise awareness, money for MS

Monday, April 19, 2010
People walk along the lagoon at Capaha Park Sunday, April 18, 2010 to raise money for the National MS Society. (Jason Mollette)

Editor's Note: This story has been changed to reflect that there are 344 people with MS in Southeast Missouri. There are 582 total cases in Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois.

On Sunday, more than 500 men and women gathered in Capaha Park in Cape Girardeau to take part in the Multiple Sclerosis walk, an event geared to raise awareness of the disease and the funds needed to continue research for a cure.

Event organizers set a goal of $38,000 and said they were optimistic they would meet that goal with the number of people who turned out.

"It's a step in the right direction when people come participate in the walk and learn about MS," said Mary Meyer, who first organized the MS walk in Cape Girardeau 21 years ago. "It's important that people who have MS know there are so many resources available to them, like the multiple sclerosis society here in Cape Girardeau."

Meyer was diagnosed with MS in 1985. The disease affects the central nervous system when the immune system begins attacking layers of conductive fat called myelin, which protects and insulates nearly all the nerves in the human body. When that insulation begins to unravel, the electrical "message" the nerve conveys becomes distorted or lost, which causes the intended recipient of the nerve impulse to misinterpret it or not receive it all. Resulting symptoms can include temporary blindness, when the brain isn't receiving a visual data signal from the eye.

The central nervous system -- which consists of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves -- controls all the tasks the body performs, which is part of what makes MS such a challenge for the medical community and people afflicted with it.

"The symptoms for the onset of MS change from person to person," said Sharon Hileman, the community development manager of the Gateway MS Society.

Hileman said symptoms span everything from numbness, fatigue or coordination problems to depression, confusion or emotional instability.

The cause of the disease is unknown, with some in the scientific community suspecting the disease is auto immune in nature while others believe it exhibits hallmarks of a genetic disorder.

Worldwide about 2.5 million people suffer from MS, with around 400,000 cases existing within America and around 200 new cases of MS being reported each week. In Southeast Missouri there are currently 344 people who have been diagnosed with MS.

"MS is not a death sentence," Meyer said. "Many people enjoy long and satisfying lives after being diagnosed."

For more information, contact the MS Society at 800-344-4867.

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