Meet Walk MS Ambassador Helen Soring
Helen Soring, this year’s Walk MS Grand Rapids Ambassador, was a caregiver to her husband Don for more than 50 years. Don, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 28, passed away in February 2012. Helen’s friend, Betty Burnson-Drenckhahn, who coordinates Walk MS in Grand Rapids, hopes to raise awareness about the disease by sharing her friend’s remarkable story of true love in the face of chronic illness.
Written by Betty Burnson-Drenckhahn, Grand Rapids Walk MS Coordinator
In March of 2012, I received a phone call from a lady named Helen Soring. She needed the address for the National MS Society to send a donation from her husband’s funeral and was given my name. We ended up talking for 45 minutes, and when I hung up the phone, I knew this would be a woman I would grow to love and respect with all my heart.
Helen’s husband, Don, who passed away in February 2012, had lived with multiple sclerosis since the age of 28. Learning more and more about Helen and Don, our Walk MS Committee asked if we could honor Don’s memory at the upcoming Grand Rapids Walk MS event. Helen talked with her family and they thought that would be great.
Don was a lifelong resident of Itasca County. He played hockey with the first Grand Rapids High School hockey team, and after graduating in 1950, proudly served as a Marine in Korea. Don married Helen in 1957 and was a member of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, Disabled American Veterans, Loyal Order of Eagles and the American Legion. During his final years, he was in bed full-time but happy to be in his own home with his family. Helen would have it no other way.
Don was diagnosed in the 1960s with MS. During this time, no medicines were available (the only MS drug was Archer Gel, which did not seem to help Don’s condition, as it rapidly progressed) to help slow relapses and progression of the disease. Helen took the healthy living approach and cooked lean, well-proportioned meals, eliminated caffeine from the diet and promoted a multi-vitamin rich in vitamin D. They spent many of their days attending MS group meetings and gatherings for those living with MS. Don was very social and liked to be around people. One story Helen tells is that Don liked a rum and coke once in a while. When they went to the Moose Club for dinner on Wednesdays and Fridays, Don would order his rum and coke, and she would order her usual coke for the main purpose of diluting Don’s drink throughout the evening. People soon caught on and always made sure to ask Don how his rum and coke was, with a slight smile. He always replied, "It’s good."
When Don was finally diagnosed with MS (he had episodes of falling backwards and other tell-tale signs but only sporadically), he and Helen were optimistic at first, but as time went on, reality set in.
Don continually worsened, eventually needing help with everything he did. Helen would put her own needs on standby as she became Don’s most indispensable side kick. Don’s doctor suggested Don be moved to a nursing home for the constant care he was going to need. Helen wouldn’t hear of it. Instead, she learned to become Don’s nurse, physical therapist, psychotherapist, caregiver and remained his best friend while raising their family. Don would ask the kids to help him when he needed lifting or getting something done. They were always there to help out when it was needed and learned the meaning of responsibility in so many ways.
I asked Helen, of slight build, how she managed to move and lift Don by herself and how she stayed focused for more than 50 years of caregiving day in and day out. She shrugs and said, “I did what I had to and wouldn’t have done it any differently.” Her outlook on life is to stay strong and positive. She said, "You can’t do it without family and friends surrounding you. Life is the most important thing we have, so we all have to make the most of it."
Betty Burnson-Drenckhahn may be reached for interviews at 218-328-5914 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To speak with a National MS Society, Upper Midwest Chapter spokesperson, please contact Anna at 612-335-7918 or email@example.com.
Walk MS 2013
Join Betty, Helen and thousands of others by getting involved in Walk MS. To learn more, register or donate, visit myMSwalk.org.