Team "My Strength" Returns For Walk MS in Westport
STRATFORD, Conn.-- In November of 2010, Stephanie Haughney, 31 at the time, just celebrated her second wedding anniversary with her husband, Derek. Together they had a 10 month old baby boy named Reid. She worked as a physical therapist and kept an active lifestyle, playing volleyball in a recreational league. She was happy and healthy and never imagined that in less than a week she would be diagnosed with an illness that would turn her life upside down.
One Tuesday morning, Haughney awoke suddenly with severe lower back pain. A few days later, the pain became so severe she collapsed to the floor. By Saturday, just five days from the onset of symptoms, Haughney was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a chronic and incurable disease.
On the fifth day of Haughney’s pain, her symptoms had severely worsened. She experienced spastic paralysis on the left side of her body which caused her arm and leg to seize and lock. She also began to lose vision in her left eye.
“I was in agony and so unsteady on my feet,” says Haughney, who resides in Stratford. “I was scared to hold my baby.”
Haughney was admitted to Yale New Haven Hospital where she underwent a two and a half hour MRI and spinal tap. The procedures showed two lesions on her brain: one on the right side and one on her optic nerve. She finally had an answer; she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Derek and Stephanie Haughney pose outside their home in Stratford. Stephanie’s Walk MS fundraising team, team “My Strength,” will step out in Westport on Sunday, April 22 as part of the statewide Travelers Walk MS, presented by North American Power. To donate to “My Strength,” or to register for Walk MS, please visit www.ctfightsMS.org.
Haughney’s life had suddenly taken a sharp turn and she said she faced the future with anger, fear and uncertainty. In an ironic twist of fate, Haughney and her husband were not strangers to MS; each of them had an aunt who had struggled with the disease for years.
“I had been involved with the MS cause for more than 10 years,” says Haughney, who, for years, participated in MS walks in support of her aunts. “I never thought I’d be walking for myself one day.”
Haughney’s diagnosis prompted her to take part in the MS Walk with a new challenge, as a team captain. Her first year as captain proved to be a triumph.
In 2011, Haughney had 47 walkers listed on team “My Strength” for the Westport walk site and surpassed her $1,000 goal by raising nearly $5,000. She hopes to at least match that amount in 2012.
Haughney’s success for her walk team can be attributed to her extensive fundraising skills. She used social media, such as Facebook, as a tool for networking and raising funds for her walk team. She recruited friends and family to walk and donate money by sharing her story through email. Her colleagues at Orthopaedic Specialty Group P.C. were supportive in her effort as well, donating and spreading the word. Haughney’s efforts have been so successful, in fact, that she noted people have reached out to her that she hasn’t spoken to in years.
“Becoming a captain was a way of taking action for something for which I have no control,” says Haughney, now 32. “It was a way to accept the diagnosis and do something about it.”
Haughney voiced that it’s comforting to know there’s a supportive and powerful organization for people with multiple sclerosis.
“Taking part in the efforts of the National MS Society has helped me manage the unpredictable aspects of the disease,” says Haughney. “It’s created a support system for me and made this walk personal.”
More than 6,000 Connecticut residents, like Haughney, live with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease affecting the central nervous system. Symptoms can include, among other things, numbness and tingling in the extremities, difficulties with vision and speech, stiffness in the limbs, and in extreme cases, complete paralysis. There currently is no cure for multiple sclerosis.
With the help of medication, Haughney’s symptoms have subsided. She lives a somewhat modified version of the lifestyle she had before MS, being slightly less active and allowing more time for rest. Stress and fatigue exacerbate her symptoms.
Nearly a year from her first symptom and moving into their third wedding anniversary, Haughney notes that although the diagnosis was difficult at first, her husband recognizes her limitations and is supportive and encouraging.
“Derek is amazing,” says Haughney. “He realizes when I need help around the house and with our son and will do whatever is needed.”
Haughney explains that she is turning the negative in her life into positive by accepting what is going on and moving past it, “I am looking forward to getting involved, Walk MS is only the first step.”
The 2012 Travelers Walk MS, presented by North American Power will be held Sunday, April 22. Funds from the walk go toward research and services for people with MS. For more information on Walk MS and registration, please visitwww.ctfightsMS.organd click on the Walk MS logo.
Note: Sfiridis, a Central Connecticut State University graduate, recently completed an internship with the National MS Society, Connecticut Chapter.