1,500 take part in multiple sclerosis fundraiser in Rye

(Original publication: April 19, 2010)

RYE -  As she discussed her disease, Patricia Hamilton found herself getting emotional. Her condition was first diagnosed in 1991, but she ignored or fought through her symptoms and paid little attention to her medications.

"I was in denial," the Mount Vernon woman said.

That stage lasted close to eight years. She eventually decided it was time to adapt and make room for her multiple sclerosis, a chronic disease that attacks the central nervous system and causes a wide range of symptoms from numbness to loss of vision to extreme fatigue.

"Even though I slowed down a lot, I still do a lot," she said. "I just do it differently."

Hamilton was one of 1,500 people attending a Walk MS fundraiser Sunday in Rye. The event was part of seven local walks happening during a national Walk MS weekend, which involved about 200,000 people and 600 walks across the U.S.

The regional fundraisers jointly brought out 11,000 participants and raised $3 million for multiple sclerosis research and patient support.

The Rye event, which started and ended at Playland Amusement Park, included a three-mile walk around the neighborhood. Participants wore runner bibs describing whom they were walking for and donned colorful T-shirts for their fundraising teams: JoJo's Luv Bugs, the Hot Flashes and Special K's Fight Against MS 2010, to name a few.

Meghan Finn of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's regional chapter said the walk was shortened from six to three miles this year to increase the accessability of the event to those in wheelchairs and scooters and make it a community-building experience in which all participants cross the finish line around the same time.

"As part of these events, you see people that are impacted by the disease and you just want to help them," Finn said.

About 30 people joined the walk in support of Karen Petrellese, whose condition was diagnosed 12 years ago. She had planned to attend the event, but was hospitalized when her symptoms suddenly flared up.

"It's bittersweet, because she can't be here, but we're doing it for the cause," said Petrellese's father, Gregory Kanych, who wore a purple Team Karen shirt.

A festival was held at the end of the walk at the entrance to Playland, where a rock band played onstage and people wrote words of inspiration and support on a "Wall of Hope."

One tent housed one of the largest teams at the walk, the Hot Flashes, which Dr. Alan Legatt, a neurologist from White Plains, started 10 years ago.

Legatt created the group in honor of two relatives with multiple sclerosis and it grew from four people in its first year to about 300 at its height. In those 10 years, the team has raised more than $257,000, Legatt said.

"If I could cure my relatives with MS, I would, but I can't," Legatt said. "So, the next best thing that I can do is to help raise a lot of money for MS research."

He added, "It's a source of a lot of satisfaction to me, even though it's a lot of work."

Hamilton met Legatt at the Department of Neurology at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, where he is a doctor and she is a secretary.

Hamilton joined the Hot Flashes several years ago and has attended MS walks ever since.

"I think it's so beautiful to see so many people that care," Hamilton said. "I feel terrific, I really feel great about it."
Image from the team T-shirt

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