SIMSBURY, Conn. – As an early Mother’s Day present, two kids are supporting their mom’s fight against multiple sclerosis in a new way. Terry Bridges’ two youngest children, Renee, 13, and Sam, 12, started their own Walk MS team in honor of their mom who has lived with MS for the past five years. They are the Hurricanes of Hope.
The brother-sister duo chose a hurricane to represent their team not only because it reflects their mom’s fight against MS, but also because it is their school mascot at Henry James Memorial Middle School in Simsbury.
A hurricane also illustrates the energy Renee demonstrated in organizing her first Walk MS team. As the ring leader, Renee said she “wants to prove that even a kid can make a difference by helping out.” Sue Homrok, the principal of Henry James Memorial, said she was not surprised at Renee’s initiative and involvement within the school’s community.
“She’s stepped up to the plate before,” Homrok said. “Last year Renee was an ambassador to the 7th grade and welcomed new students. Both Renee and Sam are great kids. What they’re doing is terrific. They are perfect examples of the Henry James way, which asks students to demonstrate responsibility, respect, fairness, kindness and trustworthiness”
Since January, Renee and Sam have actively recruited their friends and fellow students to their cause.
But, before they began their own walk team, Renee and Sam, as well as their older sister Danielle, 16, walked on their mother’s team, Still S’myelin. Every year since 2005 – the year after Terry Bridges was diagnosed with MS – her family and friends have participated in the Simsbury Walk MS.
“I’m fortunate I can walk,” she said.
However, only a few months before her first Walk MS, Bridges could barely move her legs. In 2004 she began losing feeling on one half of her body. After she went to the hospital for tests, her left leg began feeling heavy – like dead weight. Bridges was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and immediately fell into a state of denial. The disease persisted and soon Bridges’ symptoms worsened. Her right wrist went limp and both her legs had to be dragged as she lost control of them. A constant fatigue swallowed any shred of her energy.
“Within a very short time all hell broke loose,” she said. “Part of the mystery of MS is the unpredictability of the symptoms. You do not know what the future has in store for you and that is a very scary thought.”
But, just as the symptoms had aggressively manifested, they soon diminished.
“Within one week of starting my steroid treatment, I was back to being my old self,” she said. “I was really fortunate because at first I was really sick, but then I got better very quickly and I haven’t had any major setbacks since.”
While Bridges’ symptoms went quickly into remission, this is not always the case for some people living with MS. For many, the symptoms of multiple sclerosis can persist for years. So when Bridges and her family step out this April, they will support many others who live with MS and are unable to participate in the walk.
“I walk in the MS Walk because there is no cure and the cause is a mystery,” she said.
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease affecting the central nervous system. There is no cure. Symptoms can include, among other things, numbness 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. Like Bridges, more than 6,000 Connecticut residents battle the potentially debilitating effects of MS.
“I never thought I’d be one of them,” Bridges said.
Since her diagnosis, Bridges has learned to recognize and respond to her symptoms. Her children have also learned more about MS and how it affects their mom. Establishing a walk team is one way Bridges’ children have supported her battle with multiple sclerosis.
“Since my mom does so much for me, I just felt like one day we could do something to help her and lots of others,” said Danielle, who also plans to organize her own walk team.
Renee and Sam have been hard at work this year, trying to gain support for the Hurricanes of Hope. They made morning announcements at school, asking students to join their team and to step out on Sunday, April 19, at the 2009 Travelers Walk MS. They will also sell paper sneakers a few weeks before the walk to raise money for the National MS Society, Connecticut Chapter. Their goal is have 20 students join their walk team.
“Since my mom has MS, we want to help to find a cure,” Sam said.
This year, Bridges distributed sign up packets throughout Simsbury, asking businesses for their support. On each packet she attached a written story detailing what it is like to be diagnosed and to live with MS. Bridges said many locals know her, but they may not know she has MS.
“It makes a difference to put a face on MS,” she said.
On Sunday, April 19, at 9 a.m. people will step out for MS across Connecticut at 11 walk sites. The sites include Cheshire, Clinton, Enfield, Litchfield, Manchester, New London, Simsbury, Storrs, West Hartford, West Haven, Westport and Woodstock. The Simsbury walk site is at Westminster School. To learn more about the Travelers Walk MS, presented by Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center, or to pre-register, please visit www.ctfightsms.org.
Travelers Walk MS community partners include WTNH News Channel 8/My TV 9, Clear Channel Radio Connecticut, to include The River 105.9, Country 92.5, KISS 95.7, 104.1 FM, ESPN 1410 AM, KC 101.3, 960 WELI and ESPN 1300 AM. Other community partners include 95.9 THE FOX and WCTY 97.7. Learn more about multiple sclerosis, its effects, and programs and services offered by the chapter to those living with MS by e-mailing programs@ctfightsMS.org or visitingwww.ctfightsMS.org.
Katy Nally, a resident of West Hartford, will graduate from the University of Connecticut in May. She is currently pursuing a Bachelors of Arts degree in journalism and serves as a public relations intern at the National MS Society in Hartford. For more information on internship opportunities with the Connecticut Chapter, please contact Karen E. Butler, Vice President of Communications, at kbutler@ctfightsMS.org.