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Patients and supporters walk to battle MS

April 28, 2012|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
  • Participants walk the course at the annual Walk MS 2012 held on Saturday at the Antietam National Battlefield.
By Yvette May/Staff Photographer

SHARPSBURG, Md. — Forty-seven is too young to be in an assisted-living facility.It’s too young to be dependent on others to help you bathe and get in and out of bed. Too young to have someone help you dress and put on your shoes.But Gina Braylen is proof that multiple sclerosis doesn¿t play fair.It can rear its ugly head at any moment, strike with a variety of symptoms and alter your lifestyle without warning.Braylen was diagnosed with MS, a disease of the central nervous system, about 15 years ago.She tried to maintain her usual day-to-day routine until last summer, she said, when the disease took away the use of her legs. It also began to affect her vision.With no family in the area and the MS becoming more difficult to manage, the Hagerstown woman decided it was time to move from a two-story house to a place where help was close at hand.“Making that decision was tough,” Braylen said. ¿But that doesn¿t mean I haven¿t stopped fighting. I¿ve just stopped being so stubborn about change.¿Despite the struggles of living with multiple sclerosis, friends say Braylen¿s spirit remains strong and she¿s an inspiration to everyone who knows her.Maybe that¿s why more than a dozen of those friends hiked three miles in her honor Saturday morning as part of the annual Walk MS at Antietam National Battlefield.¿One day, I¿m hoping I¿ll be able to join them,¿ Braylen said from her wheelchair near the starting point. ¿That¿s what today is all about — walking for a cure.¿About 650 people participated in this year¿s Walk MS and more than $85,000 was raised to fight the disease, surpassing last year¿s total of $70,000, said Mark Roeder, president of the Maryland Chapter of the National MS Society.¿We¿re thrilled with the numbers,¿ Roeder said. ¿To exceed what we did last year ¿ that¿s terrific.¿Roeder said 40 percent of the funds raised will go to research, while the remainder stays locally to support programs and services for MS patients.Nine walks were held across Maryland in April, he said, with this weekend marking the grand finale.Participants in Saturday¿s walk, which began and ended at the Philadelphia Brigade Monument, could choose between a three- or five-mile hike.Many of the walkers donned T-shirts with team names that supported family members and friends with MS.Monica Hutchins, 39, of Hagerstown, was among the MS patients who joined in the walk.Using a cane, Hutchins was accompanied by 20 family members and friends who formed a team called Baby Steps 4 Mommy.¿I¿m mommy,¿ she said with a smile.Hutchins said she was living in Washington, D.C., when her first symptoms appeared.¿I had tingling in my hands and feet,¿ she recalled. ¿Then, my legs stopped working. Doctors thought it might be stress or high blood pressure. They also thought it might be fibromyalgia.¿When she received a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, ¿I was shocked,¿ Hutchins said. ¿MS isn¿t a high-risk disease in the African-American community. But it¿s there. And I¿m proof.¿Hutchins has been battling MS for more than 13 years and admitted she has lived with her share of pain.But she has a large support group, she said, including her husband, Barri, ¿who has been my biggest cheerleader throughout this whole experience. We were engaged when I found out I had MS and he has been right there by my side ever since.¿Hutchins said she has not allowed MS to slow her down or keep her from reaching her goals.¿I keep moving,¿ she said. ¿I have two master degrees and I¿m working on my doctorate. I work full time as an academic adviser at Hagerstown Community College and also teach adjunct. I have two beautiful boys. And I do a lot of research on the subject of MS.¿After looking into the topic of Chronic Cerebrospinal Venous Insufficiency (CCSVI), a reported abnormality in blood drainage from the brain and spinal cord that some researchers believe might contribute to nervous system damage in MS, Hutchins said she elected to undergo a new procedure in February with vascular and interventional specialists in Towson, Md.While the procedure is not yet FDA-approved, Hutchins said MS patients can participate through clinical trials.¿I¿ve seen a difference in my mobility and a reduction in pain,¿ she said. ¿While the results might not be the same for everyone, it¿s the kind of thing that offers hope. That¿s why raising money for continued research is very, very important.¿¿A cure is on its way,¿ Barri Hutchins said.

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