By: Stephanie Sfiridis, Communications Intern, National MS Society, Connecticut Chapter
GRISWOLD, Conn. -- Alexandra “Alex” Brown knew the effects multiple sclerosis could have on a life. She can recall her godmother’s struggle to write simple words and the impact her own grandmother’s diagnosis had on her family. In an ironic twist of fate in 2002, Brown began experiencing similar symptoms which, like her godmother and grandmother, would lead to a chronic illness she would battle for the rest of her life.Brown was 28, had graduated from Southern Connecticut State University, was working as a pediatric oncology nurse at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, and was married with a one-year old little boy. Her life was completely normal up until a seemingly simple episode of blurred vision at work.
“Work became challenging,” said Brown, a Wallingford native, “I was finding it difficult to read the labels on the chemotherapy bags that I was supposed to hang without glasses.”
An appointment with the optometrist revealed she had swollen optic nerves, and Brown was sent to see a neurologist.
The first trip to the neurologist came back with no abnormalities; however, within 24 hours, Brown began to experience weakness on the right side of her body. At one point, Brown attempted to feed her son oatmeal and could not lift the spoon up to his mouth. It was when she struggled to write down a telephone message, that Brown suddenly realized she had MS. She recognized her words as similar to the strained writing her godmother possessed.
A doctor visit, MRI, and 48 hours of waiting in agony finally revealed that there were five lesions on Brown’s brain. After a spinal tap and second opinion from a neurologist, the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis was finally confirmed.
More than 6,000 Connecticut residents, like Brown, 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.
“I was angry,” said Brown, who wanted nothing to do with the disease. “My husband was supportive but it was difficult for him to understand what I was going through and my mother had a hard time because she had already watched her mother battle the disease.”
Within one month of being diagnosed and starting intravenous steroid medication, Brown was back to living a normal life. She continued to take medication but had no symptoms of the disease. A year later, Brown was participating in Walk MS, a National Multiple Sclerosis Society event, while carrying her then two-year old son in a backpack just to prove she could.
Brown was encouraged to participate in Walk MS by her mother, Doris Dubra, who took the first step by signing them both up. Since her first event with the National MS Society, Brown went on to participate in Bike MS and the Women Against Multiple Sclerosis (WAMS) Luncheon.
The Women Against MS Luncheon is an event in which women come together to demonstrate their support to a friend or family member who is affected by multiple sclerosis. According to statistics, three times as many women are diagnosed with multiple sclerosis as are men. As a result, women across the nation now come together annually, state by state and chapter by chapter, to learn, through inspirational personal accounts, about the devastating effects and the latest advancements in care. These same women, dedicated to joining the fight against MS, raise critically-needed funds to ensure continued scientific research to find a cure.
Brown first became involved with WAMS in 2005 and has been named this year’s spokesperson for the event. Over the years, her participation in WAMS and other chapter events has helped bring in thousands of dollars to the National MS Society.
“Women Against Multiple Sclerosis is a great opportunity to meet other women who deal with the same issues and who have overcome MS,” said Brown, “I encourage women everywhere to get involved and help make a difference.”
Since her diagnosis, Brown has been able to go back to living a normal life virtually free of symptoms. She experienced one relapse but was treated successfully with medication. Brown, now 37, works full-time as a nurse education specialist at UMass Memorial Medical Center, earned her master’s degree in nursing education and had a second child. She now resides in Griswold with her husband, Eric, and two children, Joshua, 10 years old, and Ella, 4 years old.
“I feel fortunate that my symptoms are mild,” said Brown, who indicated she is happy to be able to keep a full schedule. “I am able to live life as I did before I was diagnosed with MS.”
The Greater Hartford NBC Connecticut Women Against MS Luncheon will be held Friday, Nov. 4, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Marriott Hartford Downtown in Hartford. For the first time ever, the event will also feature exclusive boutique shopping from 10 a.m. to noon.
Guests will have the opportunity to shop among local merchants who will display clothing, jewelry and much more. At noon guests will move on to the lunch and program portion of the event, which features keynote speaker Maureen Manley, former U.S. Cycling Team National Champion. Manley will share how the sudden onset of multiple sclerosis changed her focus in life and started her on a new journey. NBC Connecticut anchor Lisa Carberg will return to serve as mistress of ceremonies. Community partners include NBC Connecticut and Clear Channel and The River 105.9.
To register or become a table captain, please visit www.ctfightsMS.org and click the WAMS button, located on the middle of the homepage. For more information on the WAMS luncheon, please contact Elizabeth Sulick at 860-913-2550 ext. 52524, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: in May 2011, Stephanie Sfiridis earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication from the Central Connecticut State University. She is currently conducting a communications internship with the National MS Society, Connecticut Chapter. She will begin work on a master’s degree in January.