Hoopster's Boosters Continue Their Run As A Fundraising Powerhouse
ENFIELD, Conn., -- Take a second to imagine waking up and not being able to feel below your waist. Imagine the fear, the confusion, and the terror coursing through you at the very realization. For Karen Hooper this is more than just something to imagine, it is her reality.
On Jan. 23, 2005 Karen Hooper, who was just 31 years old at the time, experienced something terrifying, numbness from the waist down. It occurred suddenly and it progressed until she could barely walk. In February, after seeing her primary care doctor, as well as a neurologist, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease of which she had never heard.
“My primary care physician was trying not to frighten me, but I knew it was serious,” said Hooper. “They ran lots of tests, basically everything possible, and they diagnosed me within three weeks of my first symptom. Looking back at it now, I realize how lucky I was. Sometimes it can take years for a patient with MS to be diagnosed, but my symptoms were so glaring, and I was able to be diagnosed quickly.”
More than 6,000 Connecticut residents, like Hooper, live with MS, an autoimmune disease affecting the central nervous system. Symptoms can include, among other things, numbness and tingling in the limbs, difficulties with vision and speech, stiffness, loss of mobility and, in some more severe cases, total paralysis. The progress, severity, and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot be predicted.
Prior to her diagnosis, Hooper worked at a job which required her to travel internationally as often as once every two weeks. She worked long hours and frequently found herself in high stress situations. They were situations that she liked and handled well.
Karen Hooper and her husband Patrick pose at Newington resident Michael O'Toole's Do It Yourself fundraising event, Get Your Irish Up for MS! in March. Karen, who was diagnosed with MS in 2005, captains the Hoopster's Boosters Walk MS fundraising team, which steps out each year in Enfield. Hoopster's Boosters have raised more than $14,000 in the past three years. For more information on the Travelers Walk MS, presented by North American Power, or to donate to Hoopster's Boosters, please visit ctfightsMS.org.
“I was a very independent person,” said Hooper, who feels that MS has robbed her of much of that independence. “I was a leader. I did a lot of multi -tasking and I was good at handling stress. There have been a lot of changes that I’m trying to deal with. Many of the things that used to be easy for me have become nearly impossible. After a relapse last year, which took some of my cognitive skills, like my ability to multi-task, my memory, and even some of my speech, I was forced to quit my job and was put onto short term disability.”
Hooper also mentioned that she is unable to drive, which leaves her relying on her friends and family to take her to weekly doctor appointments. She also depends on post it notes as reminders about things that seem simple and mundane, such as switching a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer.
“I’m trying to deal with the changes, and one way that I can deal with it all is to fundraise,” said Hooper. “I participate in Walk MS at Enfield every year. For the past two years my team has been the highest fundraisers for that site.”
Last year’s Travelers Walk MS attracted nearly 10,000 participants and raised a record amount, 1.36 million. Funds raised at chapter events, such as Walk MS, ensure ongoing scientific research to find better treatments and a cure for people like Karen Hooper. These funds also provide for the continuation of much-needed programs and services offered by the National MS Society, Connecticut Chapter, to those in the state living with multiple sclerosis.
This year, the walk event is expected to raise $1.45 million. The 2012 Travelers Walk MS, presented by North American Power, will be held Sunday, April 22, at 12 sites statewide, including Cheshire, Clinton, Enfield, Litchfield, Manchester, New London, Simsbury, Stamford, West Hartford, and one newly added location, Danbury. Participants can select to walk either 2.5 or five miles. There are finish line activities at each site, including a complementary lunch by Subway and Coca-Cola.
While Hooper is no longer able to walk the course at the Enfield Walk MS, she has found another way to contribute.
“For me it’s all about the fundraising,” said Hooper. “I was very honored to cut the ribbon at last years Enfield Walk MS. It enabled me to say a few words of thanks to all of my caregivers, especially my husband. When you have MS you need a supportive family and friends and a supportive spouse, I have both and I don’t know what I would do without them, so it was great to be able to publicly tell them that.”
Hooper’s support is evident through the members of her walk team. At last years Enfield Walk MS event, Hooper’s team, Hoopsters Boosters, was made up of many different individuals, including several of Hooper’s Phi Sigma Sigma sorority sisters from Bryant University.
“My sorority sisters have been there since day one,” said Hooper. “When I was diagnosed they arranged it so that I received a card or care package every single day for several months. They have stayed by my side for the past 7 years and they even come down to Connecticut to participate in MS events. They are on my walk team and even though it isn’t always easy for them to get away from their busy lives, they have shown a tremendous amount of support and sacrifice for me.”
Some of Hooper’s additional support comes from young Connor Pfalzgraf, who is the son of Mick Pfalzgraf, a friend of Hooper’s from college. Connor, who is about 10 years old, started Kakes for Karen. Each Cake costs $20-40 dollars and 100 percent of the proceeds go to Karen’s Walk MS team, Hoopster’s Boosters.
“Connor doesn’t just slap some frosting on a cake,” said Hooper. “The cakes he makes are amazing. Last year he even made a German chocolate cake for my birthday. He is the most caring and sensitive person of that age that I have ever met. I was extremely overwhelmed by his actions, he was so shy about it, but he’s like a little cake boss.”
Hooper takes MS for what it is, a mental and a physical disease, that has changed her life in many ways. However, she looks at what hasn’t changed and the things that she is able to do still, such as fundraising and ribbon cutting. Karen Hooper is not giving up, she is fighting MS with the support of the people around her.
The 2012 Travelers Walk MS community partners include News 8, WUVN Univision, and Clear Channel Radio Connecticut, which includes The River 105.9, Country 92.5, KISS 95.7, ESPN1410 AM, KC101.3, 960 WELI, and ESPN 1300 AM. Other community partners include 95.9 THE FOX and WCTY 97.7.
To join Karen in the fight against MS and learn more about the 2011 Travelers Walk MS, presented by North American Power visit www.ctfightsms.org.
Learn more about multiple sclerosis, its effects, and programs and services offered by the chapter to those living with MS by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org visiting www.ctfightsms.org.
Abby Blundon is currently a Communications intern at the National MS Society, Connecticut Chapter. She is a student at Quinnipiac University where she is studying Advertising and Accounting. She will be graduating in Dec. 2012.