Team Debbie, many more net $84,193 to battle MS

April 14, 2008|By MARIE GILBERT

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HAGERSTOWN - It's a cruel twist of fate that a woman who once led an active lifestyle now has trouble walking across a room without the help of a cane.

Each move is slow and calculated - and sometimes painful.

Plotting her path almost becomes a game. She worries about walking on grass where tree roots are an obstacle. She avoids street curbs that are hard to manage.

And she tires easily.

Debbie Vessa has multiple sclerosis.

But don't feel sorry for her. She doesn't allow it.

"I'm a fighter. I'm pretty hardheaded," the Hagerstown woman said. "I'm not going to let this disease define me."

Instead, she defies it.

Take Saturday, for instance. She could have stayed home and relaxed. But she decided to take a hike around Antietam National Battlefield.


Vessa was among more than 800 people who participated in Walk MS, an annual 5K event designed to raise money to fight multiple sclerosis - a disabling disease of the central nervous system.

The Hagerstown walk is one of 11 held in communities across Maryland the past two weekends.

Amanda Glenn, spokesperson for the Maryland chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, said $84,193 was raised during Saturday's event - well over the $70,000 goal set by organizers.

"Obviously, this is wonderful," she said. "This is definitely above what we projected."

Glenn said the MS Society is appreciative of the efforts of the Hagerstown community in making the walk a success year after year. The Hagerstown walk is one of the fastest growing walk sites in the state, she said.

Money raised will go for research, patient services and programs, Glenn said.

Vessa was accompanied Saturday by 18 family members and friends who formed Team Debbie.

"It's our way of showing Debbie how much we support her," said Teresa Burdette of Brownsville. "Ever since she was diagnosed with MS, we've all been learning about the disease. We all feel like we're in this together."

Vessa said she was diagnosed with MS in February.

It took doctors two years to figure out what was wrong with her, she said.

"I had a lot of symptoms, was in and out of doctors' offices and was misdiagnosed," Vessa said. "Finally, after a trip to the University of Maryland Hospital and multiple MRIs, a wonderful doctor came up with the diagnosis."

Vessa said no one wants to be told they have multiple sclerosis, but she was glad to finally know what was wrong with her.

"I was a little emotional," she said. "But I'm over that now. It is what it is."

Vessa, who works at the National Cancer Institute at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., said she appreciates the support she has received from family, friends and co-workers.

"But sometimes, they're a little too overprotective," she said. "I'm a do-it-yourself kind of person. I have to remind them of that."

Vessa said she is on drug therapy and takes Rebif, which helps control flare-ups.

"I continue to have a lot of hope," she said.

Vessa said her group of friends and relatives raised more than $2,500.

"I'm excited about the amount pledged, but I'm also excited to be a part of the walk," she said.

Vessa said she had been working three days a week with her physical therapist in preparation for Saturday's event.

"I plan on finishing the entire walk," she said with cane in hand.

"And I plan on coming back next year, even 20 years from now. Like I said, I'm a fighter."

Glenn said walk donations still are being accepted by the MS Society.

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