Not the cure, but living better in the Vail Valley
Vail Valley, CO Colorado
VAIL VALLEY, Colorado ” A room full of adults in Colorado’s Vail Valley bounce about gleefully on Swiss exercise balls, listening as physical therapist Joanne Mayer explains the ball exercises can strengthen muscles and lessen back pain.
The group jokes around, laughing at how ridiculous everyone looks bouncing in unison, but the goal is quite serious ” to help the group of people, all diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, find ways to be healthier, stronger and live better lives despite their disease.
The 25 participants from the Vail Valley and across the country, spent five days working with a team of more 45 doctors, health specialists, trainers and other multiple sclerosis specialists as part of the Can Do Program sponsored by the Heuga Center, an Edwards-based non-profit organization for people with multiple sclerosis.
The program is held twice a year in Vail and at several other locations across the country. The program also has a component for the participants’ “support partners,” such as a spouse or caretaker, to address their concerns and educate them about the disease.
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, unpredictable disease with no known cause or cure that attacks the central nervous system, causing symptoms ranging from numbness to fatigue to paralysis.
Some of those are effects that Edwards resident Alice Plain can tell about first-hand.
A year and a half ago, 42-year-old Plain was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, after she noticed chronic numbness from her waist down.
“It was a shock,” said Plain, a self-described “outdoor junkie” who bikes, skis, golfs and plays hockey. “It was very scary. I’ve always lived what I thought was a very healthy lifestyle, and it’s been a big adjustment in my life and with what I can do.”
While still very active ” Plain sports an arm sling as the result of a recent mountain biking fall ” she struggles with fatigue as well as the numbness. She has had to give up ice hockey, her favorite sport, she said.
Now, sitting among the other program participants, Plain said she has picked up great information from talking with the specialists, picking up exercises to do at home and nutritional advice that will help keep energy levels up.
“It’s been all-encompassing and enlightening,” she said of the program. “Knowledge is such a good thing with any disease. The more you know, the better you handle things.”
It has also been encouraging to talk with a whole group of others who understand her situation and are going through the same thing.
“It’s a very hidden disease. There are a lot of invisible symptoms, such as vision loss that can’t be corrected, the numbness, or the fatigue. People look at you and say, ‘Wow, you’re doing well,'” Plain said.
And it’s true. Looking around the room, some are older, some are younger.
Some look perfectly healthy and walk around with ease, while others’ show symptoms when they pour a glass of water with a shaky hand. Still others are in further stages of the disease, and move with the help of wheelchairs or walkers.
But the point of the program is for the participants, no matter what symptoms and difficulties they have, to focus on what they can do, said organizer Tara Lane, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2000 and attended the program herself in 2007.
“Everyone else is looking for the cure. We want to make it easier for people to live every day,” said the 37-year-old Lane, a figure and power skating coach from Edwards.
The program’s occupational therapist might show a patient how to rearrange their home in a more convenient way, or the speech therapist might suggest exercises for a struggling patient.
Lane said the program helped encourage her to continue her active, healthy lifestyle.
“It taught me that what I was doing was correct, and to keep going,” Lane said. “Just because I had MS, I was still a healthy person.”
Many people are diagnosed, but do not know how important it is to keep exercising, eating well, or to be proactive about the disease, she said.
“It’s common for people to be diagnosed and told to go home and not do anything,” Lane said. “Some people are in denial and ignore the problem, and others shut down. But you can exercise, be in control and take charge.”
Plain agreed ” the disease doesn’t define her, and the program has reinforced that attitude.
“I’m ready to continue being healthy, and not get bogged down,” she said. “MS is one thing I have to deal with. Everyone has something going on. This just happens to be something I have.”
Staff writer Melanie Wong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (970) 748-2928.