Issaquah woman’s fight against multiple sclerosis brings hope to others

April 21, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Kelly McDonald stands beside her neurologist Jerold Mikszewski at the Multiple Sclerosis Society walkathon April 5 at Husky Stadium. Contributed

Kelly McDonald stands beside her neurologist Jerold Mikszewski at the Multiple Sclerosis Society walkathon April 5 at Husky Stadium. Contributed

One year ago, Kelly McDonald’s multiple sclerosis diagnosis seemed like an impossible obstacle to overcome. 

Her husband died a few months earlier; she was a single, working mother to a then 3- year-old daughter; and images of bed-ridden patients she used to care for earlier in her nursing career flooded her thoughts.“I’m a widow and a single mother. Who would take care of her?” McDonald asked, her eyes filling with tears. “I just kept thinking back to the time I worked with patients and the disease wasn’t treatable. All they could do was blink their eyes.”

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system, made up of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves, according to the Washington Multiple Sclerosis Society Web site. 

Symptoms can be mild, like numbness in the limbs, or severe, like loss of vision or paralysis. The progress and severity of the disease is unpredictable and varies from one person to another. 


A devastating diagnosis

McDonald said she first noticed something was wrong when she started having pain in her right eye and lost her vision.

She went in for several tests with physicians and neurologists who found lesions on her brain, a telltale sign of the disease.

“But no one would use the word MS,” she said. 

It wasn’t until she found Jerold Mikszewski, a neurologist at Pacific Medical Center’s Beacon Hill campus, where she works, that someone told her what she actually had. 

“We did an MRI scan on her and came to the conclusion after a second MRI that she had MS,” Mikszewski wrote in an e-mail.

“He was the only one that looked me in the face and told me I had MS,” she said, adding the diagnosis frightened her. 

But just two weeks after her diagnosis, McDonald walked in her first EMD Serono MS Walk in Seattle. 

“I think how she dealt with this is she realized she would have to adapt the same attitudes as she does with her patients now with herself,” Mikszewski wrote. “She has this inner strength, this drive and ability to focus on what she needs to do to help with this illness and she was able to do that.”

In the past year, she’s found stability in her life through friends and co-workers who support her, a doctor and colleague who helps plan for her future, and solace in promoting awareness of the disease. 

“It’s manageable, today,” she said. “I give myself injections every day. It hurts, but I do it every day. My daughter even helps. She says, ‘You give yourself medicine, so you can hug me and pick me up.’ She is why I keep going.”


Learning to cope and       advocating education

This year, McDonald’s company pledged corporate support for the walk in honor of her. 

“This is the second year that she’s been involved in the MS walk,” said Karyn Beckley, vice president of marketing for Pacific Medical. “She is very connected to the Pacific Medical community and the people that work here. And the people that work here were very excited about an opportunity to support her.”

In turn, McDonald pledged to share her story, gather a team and raise money for the cause.

Gathering pledges, however, wasn’t what she had in mind. Instead, she wanted to give workers at nine different Pacific Medical Centers the opportunity to help. McDonald organized a day where employees could purchase the right to wear jeans to work — something they’re not typically allowed to do.

“I think the key is that it was creative and allowed everyone in the company to participate. So, even if they couldn’t join the team Sunday to walk, you could still participate,” said Jenny Poast, vice president of development for the local multiple sclerosis foundation. 

Between the jeans day and regular pledges from friends, family and co-workers, McDonald and her team were able to donate about $7,000 to the Multiple Sclerosis Society. In all, Washington participants raised more than $1.7 million, Poast said.

In addition, Mikszewski set up a booth where patients and family could ask him questions.

This year, McDonald and 25 of her friends and co-workers gathered to walk at Husky Stadium on April 5. They were among 10,000 participants in eight locations throughout Washington.

“It is amazing to me to see how many people are affected by the disease. Someone out there somewhere knows someone that is afflicted with it and the whole stadium was full,” she said. “It couldn’t have been a more perfect day. It was just beautiful.”

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