Sunday event turns streets of Fredonia orange

A sea of orange and other brightly colored T-shirts could be seen Sunday making their way across the streets of Fredonia under the spring sunshine.

Hundreds of participants did their part in an effort to end multiple sclerosis for the annual Walk MS: Northern Chautauqua event, which stepped off Sunday morning from Russell Joy Park.

One of 19 upstate New York events, Fredonia’s walk raised almost $18,000 and counting in order to fight for an end to multiple sclerosis.

“Welcome to Fredonia. All of us who are standing here today either knows someone, loves someone or is someone who is suffering from MS. We need to find a cure and stop this disease forever. So let’s get out there, and walk for those who are dealing with MS and find a cure,” stated Fredonia Mayor Stephen Keefe in his opening remarks.

The mayor committed to walk the 5-mile route of Walk MS, and Assemblyman Andrew Goodell was on-hand in support of a personal friend who is fighting the aggressive disease.

“I think what particularly strikes me is that western New York boasts the second-highest rate of MS in the country, second only to the state of Washington. A good friend of mine who has MS, while receiving a lot of medical treatment, is still involved in business and community life, which takes a tremendous amount of courage and perseverance. But also, all of these faces that have showed up in support of finding a cure and help raise money and awareness are heroes for the future. Hopefully they can lay the foundation for a better future for those who suffer from MS,” stated the assemblyman.

Goodell and National Multiple Sclerosis Society Senior Campaign Manager Maria Batt both gave a nod to advances in medical research taking place in western New York as signs of hope.

“There is currently a new oral medication on the market that gives people an alternative to injection and infusion therapy, and the Multiple Sclerosis Society has been involved in $4.7 million in research this year in cooperation with Buffalo General Hospital and the University of Buffalo. Currently, 30 new drug therapies are in their final stages of clinical trials. Compare that to 1993, when only eight medications were in trial, this is really an exciting time in the fight against MS,” Batt said.

Area residents and former classmates Jody Woodard and Tom Kolassa, both fighters of MS and teammates for Team Kolassa, stated that their physicians keep them up to date on research developments and strides being made to fight what they refer to as a “faceless disease.”

“Don’t be afraid to get checked out. You’re never too old or too young to get checked out if something doesn’t seem right. And making more people aware in general is helpful, because all of the support in the world really helps someone in their fight against this illness,” said Woodard, who pointed to her husband Chris as her “rock of support.”

An unpredictable disease of the central nervous system, MS interrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and the rest of the body. With its cause unknown, symptoms of the disease can range from reduced or lost mobility, to numbness and tingling, to blindness and paralysis. The MRI still remains the largest tool in diagnosing the disease in that it allows doctors to visibly see the creation of scar tissue, or lesions, the visible damage left behind by the illness. While people generally are in the age range of 20 to 50 at the time of diagnosis, Batt and Assembly-man Goodell both pointed out that children are beginning to be diagnosed.

“I was only in my 30s when I was diagnosed, and if I hadn’t had an acute event that caused me to seek a doctor’s care, in my case, I had a sudden left side paralysis, I would look perfectly normal. Other than your symptoms, many of which can be overlapping, such as depression, and muscle pain and spasms, you look fine and no one really knows there’s anything wrong with you,” Kolassa added.

Team Kolassa and many others donned orange T-shirts Sunday representing the colors of the NMSS. Michelle Harriger, walking for Debbie’s Dream Team sponsored by Elevation Combat Sports Academy and ART DEN Designs, was asked by passersby on the 3-mile route what the significance of the orange shirts was, and received encouragement along with the way with her teammates by telling people on the street that she was supporting a cure for MS.

Michelle, her brother David (owner and operator of Elevation Combat Sports Academy), and the rest of her family, joined by nearly 30 teammates, walked in support of her mother Debbie, who is courageously fighting her own war against MS.

“Our team walks because MS is close to our hearts. We’re here to help make a difference in the lives of those who suffer from the disease and are determined to raise funds for advocacy and research with the ultimate goal that someday we can live in a world free of MS. My mom is stronger than this challenge, and this challenge is making her stronger,” Harriger said.

The Paper Factory’s team, The Balloon Crew, provided balloon characters to walkers of all ages and P & G Foods’ Gary Damico was on-hand with the P & G Weenie Wagon to provide refreshments all morning long. Brian Boedo of B.B Entertainment provided the sound that kept the walkers moving and student volunteers from Fredonia Central School’s Key Club assisted with the event.

While there was a deadline for prize-winning fundraising, Batt reminds area residents that donations can still be made toward finding a cure by logging on to the website and following the prompts.