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Canada has one of the highest rates of this disease

May 24, 2016

Love and support
Family Affair
You can count on family
Women are three times more likely than men to be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Photo: Valdine Flaming/MS Society Manitoba
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Jamie Burt’s unspoken response to his wife’s multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis in 2010 was a mix of fear and worry. Jamie, who has worked at our Manitoba Operations for 17 years (he’s now a cathode prep operator), immediately thought back to his only other encounter with MS, an autoimmune disease that attacks the central nervous system (the spinal cord and brain, most notably), often manifesting in such symptoms as severe fatigue, walking difficulties, pain, numbness or tingling sensations, mood changes, and sometime spastic movements in the arms and legs.

“My cousin Rosemary had just graduated from high school back in Newfoundland and was in the first year of her nursing studies when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis,” said Jamie. “Rosemary had a horrible battle with MS. It was debilitating, fast-acting and she died way too young. And that’s where my mind went years later when I was sitting there in the doctor’s office with my wife, Marcella.”

Fortunately, Marcella, who’s been married to Jamie for 13 years and with whom she shares three children and four grandchildren, has had a very different journey with MS. “I have what’s called relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. I have good days and I have some bad days, but overall I live an active, fulfilling life. I work as an adjudicator with the Workers Compensation Board and I volunteer with the MS Walk committee in Thompson. My form of MS is not progressive as it is for some sufferers of the disease – and that’s the most notable thing I’ve learned over the years: MS affects everyone differently.”

That’s something Marcella saw firsthand in 2011, when she and her entire family participated in their first MS Walk in Thompson (which takes places this coming Sunday, May 29).

“When I was first diagnosed at age 36 I knew nothing about MS. I thought of it somewhat like polio – a disease I’d seldom heard about. The year after I was diagnosed, Jamie and I, along with our kids, participated in our first MS Walk, of which Vale is a sponsor. I saw people from all walks of life – all being affected very differently. Some had walkers, others were in wheelchairs, others were walking just fine – and all ages.”  Marcella is very active on the MS Walk committee and husband Jamie is, of course, involved as well. “My husband has come with me to every doctor’s appointment, test and specialist appointment,” said Marcella. “And he watches me like a hawk!”

I don’t let MS control me or define who I am.

Jamie is quick to fess up: “Sometimes I’m overly protective of Marcella and, yeah, it likely annoys her,” he laughs. “If she looks tired, perhaps dragging her foot a bit, I’ll be all over there asking how she’s feeling, and if there’s anything I can do.  I also know what to expect if the weather changes suddenly or if life gets too stressful for Marcella. Those things can affect her. I do what any husband would do.”

For Marcella, it all comes down to attitude and having a positive outlook: “I’ve learned the importance of living my life to the fullest – and having a supportive family and community makes it a whole lot easier,” she said. “I don’t let MS control me or define who I am. I carry on my day-to-day activities just like anybody else.”

Melanie Thompson, a recruitment and selection analyst at our Operations in Manitoba, who is on the MS Walk committee with Marcella Burt, knows the importance of having a positive attitude when living with an MS diagnosis. “I was only a teenager when my mom, Daryl, now in her early 60s, was diagnosed with MS at age 38. Mom’s initial symptoms were internal – mostly vision issues and numbness.

Thompson credits her mother’s determination as the biggest plus in her battle with MS. “My mom is really quite inspirational. Her positive attitude has been hugely helpful for her. If anyone asks, ‘Daryl, how are you doing?’ – my mom replies the same: ‘I’m thankful that I’m as a good as I am.’ My mom is very independent even though she does have mobility issues. We like to mother her, even when she doesn’t want us to. Her scooter and wheelchair allow her more freedom for activities she wouldn’t normally have the strength or energy to do like the MS Walk.  Mom won’t let MS take charge of her life.”

For Melanie Thompson, the MS Walk is important because it puts a face to the disease. “It’s as simple as letting people know what MS is.” She appreciates Vale’s financial support and always feels a debt of gratitude to her colleagues who take the time to come out for the event. And just like her friend Marcella, the MS Walk has become a family event for Thompson too, with her brother Lyndon, an electrical supervisor at the smelter and his family, her dad, Nels, now retired from Vale, and her sister Coral joining the walk as well.

“The MS Walk is one of our core events to raise awareness and funds for research,” said Jaime Balak, community engagement manager for the MS Society in Manitoba.

The MS Walk has been in Manitoba for a quarter of a Century, and this year we have walks in 11 communities across the province. Critical research is being done right here in Manitoba in MESCAMS (Mesenchymal stem cell therapy for Canadian MS patients) trials,” said Balak. (Mesenchymal stem cells are found in many places in the body including the bone marrow, skin and fat – and appear to suppress inflammation and repair nerve tissue, positioning them as promising candidates for the treatment of multiple sclerosis.)

“Having local communities and business like Vale get behind us is a win for all,” she added.

For details on MS Walks in Thompson, Manitoba or elsewhere in Canada, visit www.mswalks.ca

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Multiple sclerosis facts & figures

  • MS can occur at any age, but people are usually diagnosed between the ages of 15 to 40
  • Women are three times as likely to be diagnosed with MS than men
  • Canada has the highest rate of MS in the world
  • MS usually strikes adults in their peak years for child-rearing and career-building 
  • MS is more common in people with a northern European background

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