- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The 19th annual Multiple Sclerosis or MS Walk is scheduled to start April 14-15 from several sites in Washington D.C., Virginia and Maryland. This year’s event is sponsored by Booz Allen Hamilton, headquartered here in McLean, Va.

Last year more than 6,500 walkers and 400 volunteers participated in the April MS Walk in the Washington, D.C., area. The event raised more than $1.4 million for MS research and programs and services for metro area MS sufferers. Nationwide, 200,000 participants raised $53 million in MS Walks in 2006.

What is MS? It is a chronic progressive nervous disorder involving loss of myelin sheath around certain nerve fibers. Myelin is the white matter coating our nerves, enabling them to conduct impulses between the brain and other parts of the body. It consists of a layer of proteins packed between two layers of lipids. Myelin is produced by specialized cells in the central nervous system.

Every MS patient is affected differently, depending upon the area of demyelination. MS is thought to be an autoimmune disease in which one’s immune system is somehow tricked into attacking the myelin. The attacks occur within the central nervous system — either the spinal column or the brain. Think of MS as interrupting the commands from the brain to the body.

Multiple sclerosis means “multiple scars.” These scars are areas affected by the disease. MS often times strikes people in the prime of the lives. Many people living with MS were first diagnosed at the age of 30 or younger.

Today there is no cure for MS and the medical and research professionals continue to extensively research and discover more about how MS works.

The proportion of women living with multiple sclerosis jumped by 50 percent between the 1980s and the 1990s, while the number of men living with the disease remained constant, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Twice as many women as men are diagnosed with MS today.

The hallmark symptoms of MS include muscle weakness and stiffness, impaired balance and coordination, numbness and blurred vision. MS and other autoimmune diseases are characterized by the body’s misdirected attack on its own healthy tissue.

A friend with MS might tell you the bad news is he lost his balance and fell down the stairs. The good news, he might say, is you get a real adrenaline rush falling down the stairs and that makes you feel better for a short time.

There are an estimated 400,000 people living with MS in the United States today and the number is growing. The quality of life that can be provided varies greatly as each person with MS experiences different symptoms.

The MS Walks, which occur worldwide, help raise the funding needed to advance a better understanding of the disease and work to promote treatments.

The funding provides research centers such as National Institutes of Health and Johns Hopkins University, among many others, the money to help people with MS.

When you participate in the MS Walk, you directly assist those living with MS in your community and help to fuel cutting-edge research to eliminate the disease.

Together, we can make a difference — we can change the future by acting today.

[For questions, or to offer fund-raising assistance, contact the National MS Society at (202) 296-5363 or [email protected] Web www.msandyou.org].

John E. Carey is former president of International Defense Consultants Inc. and a frequent contributor to The Washington Times. Benjamin Allen was diagnosed with MS while working for Booz Allen Hamilton.

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