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Danbury teen relies on faith to fight her disease

By John Owens, Communications Specialist, National MS Society - Connecticut Chapter

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Cory McCarthy poses before last year's Walk MS in Manchester. Cory, 19, was diagnosed with MS two years ago and first experienced symptoms at age 15. The Travelers Walk MS, presented by North American Power, steps out from 12 locations statewide, including Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, on April 22. To register for Walk MS or donate to team We’re With Her, please visit ctfightsMS.org.
Four years ago, Cory McCarthy was attending a birthday party with her mother, Dawn, at Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury. Suddenly, Cory became incredibly dizzy and unsteady; people pointed and there were murmurs of her being drunk. Dawn was taken aback – her daughter wasn’t drunk. She was too young – only 15. She took Cory to a neurologist and after basic tests, was told that Cory had vertigo.

Two years later Cory woke up with the same dizziness, plus pins and needles sensations from head to toe. After a return to the neurologist and more extensive testing, an MRI showed 16 lesions on her brain, and a spinal tap found a high amount of myelin in her spinal fluid. At the age of 17, Cory was diagnosed with an aggressive form of relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis is usually considered an “adult-onset” disease, typically diagnosed between 20 and 50 years of age. Since MS is not widely recognized as a childhood disorder, diagnosis is often missed or delayed. Pediatricians may not be familiar with MS because they are not expecting to see it in children.

Diagnosing children with MS is more challenging than adults because many of its symptoms are similar to those of other pediatric neurological conditions. Estimates suggest that 8,000 to 10,000 children have MS in the United States.

Dawn recalled her feelings when Cory was diagnosed.

“When we got the diagnosis, we cried and felt sorry for ourselves for a few days, then decided ‘no, we aren’t doing this,’” said the mother of two, who works as office manager for the Jim Eagan Agency in Brookfield. “We decided that God has great plans for Cory and that doesn’t include a life of suffering, so we had an MS party.”

The party was a defiant response to Cory’s MS, a spirit instilled in the family because of their firm beliefs. Cory, now 19, and her sister Chelsea, 20, attended New Milford’s Faith Academy from kindergarten through grade 12.

The family’s faith moves them forward together.

“We rely on God when things seem hopeless,” said Dawn. “That’s the way faith works – don’t dwell on the bad.”

Cory agreed.

image1“What do people do if they don’t have faith to rely on?” she asked. “I feel like no matter what, I know God is always there for me, but I’m lucky I also have the support of my family and friends.”

For the past two years, Cory’s family and friends have stepped out to support her fight with MS at the annual Walk MS event in Manchester. This year, team We’re With Her will walk at a brand new site located in Danbury.

The 2012 Travelers Walk MS, presented by North American Power, will step out from 12 locations statewide, including Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, on Sunday, April 22. Other locations include Cheshire, Clinton, Enfield, Litchfield, Manchester, New London, Simsbury, Stamford, West Hartford, West Haven, and Westport.

The Connecticut Chapter expects to raise more than $1.45 million. Finish line activities include lunch compliments of Subway and Coca-Cola.

Team We’re With Her consisted of 43 walkers last year and raised nearly $3,000, a number they hope to surpass in 2012 by using Facebook and other social media to easily reach all of their family and friends.

Cory is thankful that so many walk with her.

“It makes me feel awesome to know that so many people care and will come support not only me but everyone at the walk,” said Cory, who attends St. Vincent’s in Bridgeport and intends to one day become a nurse. “It’s great to see all of the other teams. I like to talk with others at the walk and help educate them on this disease.”

Cory’s mother relayed her concern.

“I worry more; I pray a lot more,” said Dawn. “Everyone that has MS has a different experience, but I worry that the next exacerbation Cory gets could cause her to lose vision or paralyze part of her body.”

And her hope.

“I want her MS to go into remission for years and years,” she said. “I want her to fall in love and get married and love being pregnant as much as I did. I want her to be able to keep up with her kids without having to worry about getting too tired to do things with them.”

“I want her to keep the amazing faith that has brought her to where she is right now and live exactly how she wants to – with no limitations. She’s so young; we need a cure.”

With the number of Cory’s lesions and their locations, each doctor the McCarthys visit tells her to expect to see major permanent disability. Yet as of now Cory has none, something she attributes to her family and her faith.

“Who I am and where I am today is all because of God and my family,” said Cory. “It’s easy to feel like you’re alone, but I’m lucky that I never do. It’s so important to show people you care deeply for them by walking.”

For more information on pediatric MS, pediatric MS support groups and the six nationwide Pediatric MS Centers of Excellence, please visit www.nationalMSsociety.org.

The Travelers Walk MS, presented by North American Power, steps out April 22. To register for Walk MS or donate to team We’re With Her, please visit ctfightsMS.org.

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