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Hope Marches On For Connecticut Family

Mary and Shane Smith - Windsor, Conn.



Hope Marches On For Connecticut Family

By Melissa A. Saranitzky, Communications Coordinator

SOUTH WINDSOR, Conn. - The freshly laundered bath towels barely provided a cushion as the young mother fell to a crumpled heap on her bathroom floor. Her legs, strong and sturdy for most of her life, seemed to have betrayed her. And it was clear: she was not getting up without help. Her husband, Jeff, wasn’t due home for another two hours, and the last thing she wanted to do was scare her two young sons, Shane and Jamie.

Mary, Shane and SparkySetting aside the physical pain from the fall and the related bruise to her ego, Mary acted quickly. She called the boys to fetch her paints and the three spent the rest of the afternoon on the bathroom floor painting blue, purple and green-stemmed irises on the wall.

Shane, now 15, recalls that afternoon. “I was too young to know what really happened, but now that I’m older, I understand how my Mom was trying to protect me that day.”

Mary Smith, 45, a resident of South Windsor, Conn., was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1998 after a similar incident involving a fall.

“Initially, I wanted to protect my children from the diagnosis and the effects of my disease,” Mary said. “However, as time went on, I realized the importance of educating my sons about MS and its symptoms.”

The effects of multiple sclerosis quickly became more debilitating for Mary, and, as Shane and Jamie grew older, the boys oftentimes took on the role of caregivers. “I could only protect them for a brief time,” Mary said. “There was really no way to hide the fact that I couldn’t walk anymore.”

When Jamie left for college last fall, much of Mary’s daily care became Shane’s responsibility. Along with his classes and extracurricular activities as a sophomore at East Catholic High School in Manchester, Conn., Shane helps Mary with her medications, prepares meals and takes on extra chores, including laundry, gardening and caring for his dog, Spanky.

“It’s difficult for me now,” he said, as he lowered his gaze momentarily and looked toward his folded hands. “I feel like I have to be home more often to keep an eye on my Mom. I always have lots to do.”

According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and the United Hospital Fund, Shane is among the 1.4 million children aged 8 to 18 who provide care for an adult relative, of which 72 percent are caring for a parent or grandparent.

The Smith family turned to the National MS Society, Greater Connecticut Chapter shortly after her diagnosis for information, resources and helpful programs. The Smiths began building a network of friends who share a common life experience.

“As a family, we realized we needed to get more involved in helping to find a cure,” said Mary. “After everything the chapter did for us, it didn’t take long for us to become activists in the fight against MS.”

In 2000, the Smith family formed Team Mary, a five-person MS Walk team that is now a group of more than 200. Shane and Jamie are captains of Team Mary at the Manchester, Conn. walk site at Manchester Community College, alternating roles as captain for each year’s MS Walk. Over the past six years, Team Mary has raised more than $69,440 and is one of the top 10 walk teams in the state. In 2006, with Shane as captain, Team Mary raised $11,085 of which Shane raised $4,590 himself, placing him as the fourteenth top fundraiser in the state for the 2006 MS Walk.

To rally support, Shane and Jamie write letters to friends and family sharing their experiences over the past year.

“MS has really taken everything out of Mom,” read last year’s letter from Shane. “She spends most of her day in bed or in the wheelchair. She hates the loss of independence. I can’t blame her.”

“’Hope’ is our family motto,” Mary said, as she proudly pointed to the photos, paintings and pillows around her room that display the word. “All that we really have is hope. Hope for the strength to fight MS each day, and hope for a cure. Team Mary is an extension of that hope.”

The message of hope was clearly spelled out for the family soon after Jamie graduated from high school.

Jamie arrived home after spending an afternoon with his basketball teammates, and, to the shock of his parents, he lifted his shirt to display the word “hope” emblazoned in the form of a tattoo across his back. Mary laughs as she recalls Jamie’s excuse: “I thought you’d like it, Mom. I designed it myself!”

“I was surprised that Jamie got a tattoo,” Mary said. “But he could have chosen to get any tattoo he wanted. Instead, he immortalized my fight with MS on his body. His children and his grandchildren will know my story and the hope that he will always carry with him. Now, how could I be angry at him for that?”

Courage and hope in the face of adversity have propelled the Smiths to step forward since her fall nine years ago. Their friends and family continue to hold out hope for a cure and usher Team Mary into its seventh year.

The day Mary fell to her bathroom floor, she painted irises with her two sons. According to lore, the iris flower symbolizes faith and hope. It’s no surprise that the iris is a constant reminder of that bittersweet afternoon.

The Greater Connecticut Chapter will host its annual 2007 Travelers MS Walk on Sunday, April 22, at eight walk site locations across the state, including Cheshire, Clinton, Enfield, New London, Manchester, New London, Simsbury, West Hartford and West Haven. A ninth site, Woodstock, will host the MS Walk on Sunday, April 30.

Pre-registration for the 2007 Travelers MS Walk is FREE and preferred. To learn more about the Travelers MS Walk, please tune to WTNH News Channel 8/MY TV 9, Comcast Communications and 97.7 WCTY Country Favorites. Lunch will be provided courtesy of Subway and Coca Cola. WTNH News Channel 8 morning news anchor Darren Kramer will serve as grand marshal. To register online for the 2007 Travelers MS Walk, please go to http://www.ctfightsms.org/ or call (860) 714.2300.

Photo cutline: Mary and Shane Smith with the family’s dog, Spanky.

For More Information
Contact Melissa A. Saranitzky
Communications Coordinator
Phone: 860.714.2300, ext. 239
E-mail: msaranitzky@ctfightsms.org


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