Strong Family Ties Shore Up Harwinton Woman
By Jacqueline Sembor, National MS Society, Connecticut Chapter
HARWINTON, Conn. – It’s been said that a mother is the truest friend one can have. Raised by a single mother, Brandy Serkey later found herself also a single mom to a young daughter. She quickly discovered the strong ties that bind a mother to her daughter. It wasn’t surprising when, at her most vulnerable, Brandy found both her mother and her own daughter on the front lines of her now unpredictable battle.
As a junior in high school, Brandy was diagnosed with bell’s palsy, a disorder of the nerve that controls movement of the muscles in the face. A young and vibrant girl, despite the setback, she pressed on with her life and, at the age of 18, moved to Wisconsin to strike out on her own.
“I was doing really well until one day my entire right side went numb,” remembered Brandy, a resident of Harwinton. “I was in and out of the emergency room, but I really needed to see a neurologist. When I did, the doctor had an idea of what might be going on, but with no insurance, I couldn’t afford all the tests that I needed for a definitive answer.”
After a visit from her mother, Venus French, Brandy decided that a move back home to Connecticut would be best. She enrolled in Porter and Chester Institute, started a part-time job and most importantly, got an insurance plan. Life seemed to be getting back on track. Five years later, Brandy experienced another round of numbness, this time isolated in her leg.
“I was estatic to have Brandy home again, but I was terrified for her health,” said Venus French, who resides in Torrington. “I wanted to know what was going on with my daughter, and more importantly, make it stop.”
Now insured, Brandy agreed to have an MRI and a spinal tap and in 1998, Brandy received an official diagnosis: she had multiple sclerosis.
More than 6,000 Connecticut residents, like Brandy, live with multiple sclerosis, a potentially debilitating disease. The cause is unknown and there is currently no cure. Symptoms can include 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.
“Once I had a name for my mysterious symptoms, I wanted to try and tough it out,” said Brandy, who at the time was a single mother of a three-year-old daughter. “It wasn’t until a year later that I was convinced I needed medication. While at the wheel with my sister and baby in the car I suffered a severe attack of vertigo. I knew I couldn’t keep taking risks.”
While at the neurologist’s office to determine the right medications, Brandy saw a pamphlet advertising a local Walk MS event to benefit the National MS Society, Connecticut Chapter.
Inspired, Brandy established Bran’s Walk MS Team. She, along with her sister and daughter, stepped out together for the 2000 Walk MS in Litchfield. For them, Walk MS was not just a fundraiser. It was two generations coming together in love and support.
“For the first couple of years, it was just the three of us,” remembered Brandy, who recently celebrate her 10-year anniversary as an administrative assistant at C.H. Nickerson & Co., Inc., located in Torrington. “Then, when I met my husband, Randy, he starting walking, too, and the team grew from there.”
In 2009, in an ironic twist of fate, Brandy’s 13-year-old daughter, Skyla-Mae, was diagnosed with optic neuritis, an inflammation of the optic nerve that can cause partial or complete blindness and is often one of the first symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Momentarily stunned and feeling as if she had let her daughter down, Brandy regrouped, knowing she now was in this fight not only for herself, but for her daughter, too.
“Because we weren’t just walking for me anymore, last year we decided to change our team name from ‘Bran’s Team,’ to ‘Team Serkey,’” said Brandy.
Today, Brandy and her team are getting ready to step out for the 2014 Walk MS. The walk will take place at 12 sites across Connecticut, including the Litchfield Town Green on Sunday, April 6. Lunch will be provided compliments of Subway restaurants and Coca-Cola.
Funds raised at chapter events, such as Walk MS, ensure ongoing scientific research to find a cure and provide for the continuation of vital programs and services offered by the chapter to Connecticut residents affected by MS.
“We have a goal every year, but what is most important is getting people to join us in the fight against MS,” said Skyla-Mae. “The more people we get to sign up, the more people there are raising funds and the closer we come to finding a cure for people like my mom and me.”
In addition to asking co-workers, family and friends for donations, Brandy hosts an annual bake sale in Torrington, proceeds of which have raised more than $1,000. In 2013, the nine-person team raised a total of $3,664 with their team history total exceeding $20,000.
The 2014 Walk MS, presented by Travelers, will be held Saturday, April 5, in Madison and Westport, and Sunday, April 6, in Cheshire, Danbury, East Hartford, Enfield, Litchfield, Simsbury, Stamford, Waterford, West Hartford and West Haven.
Walk MS community partners include News 8, WUVN/WHTX Univision and WUTH Telefutura and Clear Channel Radio Connecticut, which includes The River 105.9, Country 92.5, KISS 95.7, ESPN 1410 AM, KC 101.3, 960 WELI, and ESPN 1300 AM, 95.9 The FOX, WCTY 97.7 and La Puertorriqueñisima 1120 AM.
“When I first learned that I probably had multiple sclerosis, I was all on my own,” shared Brandy. “Today, I’m not only living for me, I’m living for my family. I am walking for my future, my daughter, and the hope that one day there will be a cure for MS.”
For more information on the 2014 Walk MS, presented by Travelers, to donate to Team Serkey or to register for Walk MS, visit www.ctfightsMS.org.