HIGHLAND | Envisioning a world free of multiple sclerosis, some 800 people wearing something orange stepped forward to participate in Sunday’s Walk MS: Northwest Indiana at Wicker Park.
Orange is the color of the nationwide movement to find a cure for MS, an unpredictable often disabling disease of the central nervous system. The disease attacks the myelin or coating that protects normal nerve tissue and interrupts the flow of information to the brain, said Leigh Ann Erickson, president of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society-Indiana State Chapter. MS affects more than 2.1 million people worldwide and about 10,000 Hoosiers of all ages, according to Erickson.
One of eight fundraising and awareness-raising events held in Indiana each year, the Northwest Indiana walk is the second largest in the state and last year raised $100,000, she said. “We’re hoping to hit that amount this year” especially with nearly 100 more people registering for Sunday’s event than in 2012.
The money raised by participants during the Northwest Indiana MS Walk goes to the MS Society and helps fund research into the disease’s causes and cures, provide medical referrals and assist with equipment and medication, said Valarie Brownewell, of Schererville, a member of the walk’s organizing committee.
Education is another big factor in the MS walk, she said. A variety of pamphlets, newsletters and other printed material was available for participants.
“It’s a very family-oriented event and our rallying point. We’re rallying family, friends and colleagues to support those they know and love who have MS,” Erickson said.
That’s just the kind of support teams from all over Northwest Indiana and the Illinois suburbs showed during the event that featured a one-mile and a three-mile course with rest stops along the way, music, snacks and beverages.
A team of family and friends from Wheatfield came out to support Dana Murr who was diagnosed with MS in 1996. Her husband, Jim, and their three sons — Cael, 8, Brannon, 7, and Declan, 5 — were among the team making the trek.
“My message is that no matter what you face, you have to stay strong, stay positive,” said Dana Murr who relies on a cane to walk. “Whatever comes your way, you can face it.”
Another contingent of 18 walkers from Indiana and Illinois were firmly behind Peggy Fletcher, of Crown Point, all wearing T-shirts with the motto Making Strides for Peggy, Supporting Our Sister, Aunt & Friend.
Fletcher’s sister, Rita Bacevich, used emails to round up the troops while their niece, Kelly Fletcher of Buffalo Grove, Ill., designed the white and orange T-shirts.
A former obstetrician/gynecologist, Peggy Fletcher had to give up her practice of medicine after she developed the rarest, most aggressive and progressive form of MS 13 years ago.
Some of those with the disease have a more common form, called remitting and relapsing, that goes into remission and then, without warning, reoccurs again, she said.
MS is “complicated and frustrating,” Peggy Fletcher said. “It’s frustrating to find the right doctor, the right person to be a caregiver. It takes power and strength to persevere.”
For Jillian Kucik, of Merrillville, the support of her 30 family members and friends made the day special. Orange bandanas were among the symbols that the Kucik team wore, including 4-year old Tate, a gray Great Dane brought by Morgan Rodziewicz, of Valparaiso.
“I was diagnosed last May. I had numbness in my hand and face. I started working in Chicago … and went to a neurologist,” said Kucik, who is pregnant with twins due in March.
“Since I’ve been pregnant, I’ve had no symptoms at all,” she said. “I think the research has been so intense for the last couple of years, that I’m certain there will be a cure or something to stop MS, if not for me, then for my children.”
For the second year, Tiffany’s Avengers — 45 teachers from Dolton, Ill. School District 159 — made their presence and message known in support of Tiffany Blackman, of Schererville, who teaches language arts and has MS.
“We want to help find a cure,” said Tracey Jackson, of Country Club Hills, and a fifth-grade teacher.
While Blackman is the focus of this effort, seventh-grade teacher Serena Hewitt, of Lynwood, said, “We all have someone with MS — a sister-in-law, a sister, a best friend.”