Apr 08, 2013
Karen E. Butler
STRATFORD, Conn.—Stratford resident Stephanie Haughney is no stranger to Walk MS. For years, she had stepped out annually in honor of an aunt who battled the chronic illness. However, in 2010, for the first time ever, she stepped out on behalf of her own battle against the disease. This year, Haughney has been named the 2013 Walk MS spokesperson, traveling across Connecticut raising awareness and sharing her personal story of living life as fully as possible in the face of MS.
In November of 2010, 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.
CUTLINE: Stratford resident Stephanie Haughney, diagnosed with MS in 2010, interviews at Yale University with health reporter Jocelyn Maminta, WTNH News 8, for a March research story discussing the impact of salt on autoimmune diseases, such as MS. Haughney, named the 2013 Walk MS spokesperson, will lead the charge Sunday, April 21, from the Westport walk site. For more information on the 2013 Walk MS, presented by Travelers, or to donate to Haughney’s team, “My Strength,” please visit www.ctfightsMS.org.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.
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. “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. By Saturday, just five days from the onset of symptoms, Haughney was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a chronic, incurable disease that can lead to disability.
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. “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.
Haughney boasts almost 50 members listed on team “My Strength” for the Westport walk site. Over the years, she and her team have raised thousands of dollars to support the fight against MS.
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, who this year also serves as the talent and voice behind Walk MS public service announcements. “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.
Now, three years later, 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 2013 Travelers Walk MS, presented by Travelers, will be held at 12 walk sites across Connecticut, including Westport and Stamford, on Sunday, April 21. Funds from the walk go toward research and services for people with MS. Community partner include WTNH News 8, Univision and 95.9 FOX. For more information on Walk MS or to register, visit www.ctfightsMS.org.