Sunday, May 25, 2003

Alive & Well

Those fighting multiple sclerosis have new resource in mscenter


When Bonnie Hitch was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 20 years ago, she was a dancer, a jogger, a mother with four young children. Last summer, a three-month hospital stay meant missing her only daughter's wedding, a loss that still torments her. Despite the progressive disease, however - for which tangible props have ranged from crutches to walker to permanent use of a wheelchair - her story is not a sad one.

She is still married to the man who was her high school sweetheart four decades ago, for one thing, is actively involved in the lives of her four grown children and in her church, and she's assisting her husband with his new work as executive director of Cincinnati's mscenter.

Co-sponsored by the mscenter and Berlex Laboratories, motivation expert Delbert Richardson, a man with MS who cycled 5,000 miles cross-country, and Dr. Robert L. Reed, a Cincinnati neurologist specializing in multiple sclerosis, speak June 5 at the Manor House Banquet and Conference Center, 7440 Mason-Montgomery Road, Mason. Registration at 5 p.m., presentation at 6 p.m. To sign up: (888) 237-5394, Ext. 7235.

Multiple Sclerosis Society hosts Cincinnati MS 150, July 12-13. Beginning in Lebanon, this annual fund-raiser involves cycling 75 miles on each of two days. Information: 769-4400.

Getting to this point - the point of comprehending the disease that has so dramatically changed her life - did not come easily.

After a 35-year career in technology, Bill Hitch decided to listen to a need he'd heard of from his wife's physicians and his own heart since that initial brush with multiple sclerosis. He decided to open a comprehensive, holistic center, a nonprofit organization that could take the time to educate patients, their caregivers, and even other physicians about multiple sclerosis.

There are an estimated 4,500 individuals with multiple sclerosis in Greater Cincinnati , and each case is precisely that: individual. An autoimmune disease that destroys the outer myelin coating protecting nerves, MS can affect every major life function of the body. While the most commonly seen symptoms include optic neuritis, bowel and bladder problems, and spasticity, the disease can, in simpler terms, lead to blindness, deafness, paralysis, or cognitive difficulties.

But knowledge is power. After the shock of diagnosis and some commiseration with other MS-affected individuals, what people need most, according to the philosophy driving Bill Hitch and the new center, is a comprehensive clinical evaluation, information on physicians, testing, insurance, treatments, research - all examined from as individual a perspective as possible. The center's only other staff, clinical coordinator Maria Stivers, meets one-on-one with each patient referred to the center, providing the kind of attention that is not typically available from medical professionals in a managed care environment. While the primary focus of the mscenter is to provide a comprehensive holistic view of multiple sclerosis to the patients learning to live with the disease, Bill Hitch says that the organization's other primary aim is education. "We aren't only committed to educating patients," Hitch explains, "but also their caregivers, and physicians who haven't had much exposure to the disease."

Last year, when Bill and Bonnie Hitch were gathering information at a pharmaceutical symposium in Atlanta, they heard a motivational speaker who, Hitch says, "brought tears to (his) eyes."

Diagnosed with MS at age 44, Delbert Richardson cycled 5,000 miles, from Seattle to Washington, D.C., on a recumbent three-wheeled bike he designed himself. As an MS survivor and an African-American, his dream was to dispel stereotypes, raise awareness, and inspire hope in others with the disease.

The mscenter is bringing Richardson to Cincinnati on June 5. While his presentation will provide an overview of living with the disease and how people can live full and happy lives while coping with it, an additional talk by Dr. Robert Reed will provide information on therapies and recent research.

Until now, Cincinnati's MS patients needing a second opinion, additional tests, or just education and information were referred to the nearest MS centers - in Columbus, Cleveland or Chicago. Now there's help right here at home.

The mscenter is located at 111 Wellington Place, (513) 487-4878,

Contact Deborah Kendrick by phone: 673-4474; fax: 321-6430; e-mail:

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