Menomonee Falls - There are two worlds for Menomonee Falls resident Robyn Turtenwald - before MS and after MS.
If you ask her about them, however, she will say she has the best of both.
It's a positive spirit and support system that have helped her cope with the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in February 1998. MS is a disease that interrupts the flow of information from the brain to the body and prevents people from moving. Through years of keeping her chin up, she began to direct her energies toward helping others. Three years ago, Turtenwald and 10 committee members spearheaded Walk MS: Menomonee Falls, an event that brings residents together to raise awareness and funds to support MS-related research and services.
Walk MS is a volunteer-driven event coordinated by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
The first walk had 400 participants and raised $40,000 for the cause. Last year, the numbers and funds diminished; however, Turtenwald is hoping for a higher turnout for the 2012 walk slated for 9 a.m. April 28 at Menomonee Falls High School. Participants can choose between either a 1- or 3.1-mile route that begins and ends at the high school. There will be opportunities to learn about MS, as well as watch the Accompany of Kids perform at 9:15 a.m. at the event.
A life changed
For the first half of her life, Turtenwald had never fallen ill aside from needing glasses. It wasn't until an eye appointment that she was made aware of MS symptoms when she was diagnosed with optic neuritis, a precursor to the disease. Turtenwald waited before taking further medical action until tingling began in her feet and slowly spread up her body.
Having never been ill before and a 2-year-old son at home to enjoy, the MS diagnosis was nothing short of shocking. At first, Turtenwald went through the states of grief, from denial to anger. It ended with acceptance.
"I always wanted to write a book and I thought I would call it 'The Best of Both Worlds,' because I believe I have the best before MS and I still have it now," she said. "I have a huge network of friends and family to make sure I don't miss anything."
"I think you need to try and live your life as though there's no chair," Turtenwald said. "I think you have to live your life with your glass half full. I think it would be very easy to get yourself into a pit and not get yourself out."
Although she was diagnosed in 1998, Turtenwald was not confined to a wheelchair until much later. As a result of optic neuritis, she lacks depth perception. In 2002, Turtenwald missed a step and broke her left foot. Five years later, she fell in her bedroom and broke her right foot. Fear and adrenaline allowed her to power through the broken bone as she proceeded to drive her son to his friend's house after her fall.
When Turtenwald was back home, tears took over. So did the undeniable fact that something was truly wrong.
Because her right side is the dominant one, she never fully recovered after that and was confined to a chair indefinitely. Despite the confinement and fear of losing her independence, Turtenwald persevered and enjoys every day of her life living with MS.
"We've had lots of wonderful opportunities," she said. "We've had great experiences and we're very lucky."
She even has a chair she rides up a ramp into the front seat of a van that allows her to drive and maintain her independence.
Aside from going toward research, the funds raised from Walk MS also go to help those with MS purchase items such as wheelchairs, ramps or medications that help them function in daily life.
According to the Wisconsin Chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, there are more than 10,000 people in Wisconsin living with MS. As research progresses, doctors are able to diagnose the disease at an earlier age and prescribe medication that will slow the progression.
Through walks such as the one in Menomonee Falls, Turtenwald is convinced that a cure will be found in her lifetime. All proceeds from the walk go directly to the MS Society, which helps fund research, as well as helping individuals with MS. The society estimates it costs approximately $60,000 a year when living with MS between prescriptions and equipment.
The goal at this year's Walk MS in Menomonee Falls is to raise $30,000.
To register ahead of time or to make a donation, visit walkMSwisconsin.org. Registration can also be done the day of the event.
Editor's note: Robyn Turtenwald is NOW sports reporter Steve Tietz's sister.
If you go
WHAT: Walk MS
WHEN: 9 a.m. April 28
WHERE: Menomonee Falls High School, W142 N8101 Merrimac Drive
WHY: raise funds for multiple sclerosis research
REGISTER: walkMSwisconsin.org or at the walk
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