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April walk at Klahowya to benefit National MS Society
It all began when he couldn’t catch a ball while coaching his son’s youth basketball team.
“I just couldn’t catch it,” Kurt Spitzer, 56, said. “All of a sudden my body felt dead. I couldn’t feel.”
The East Bremerton man’s first suspicion was that his loss of sensation and lack of motor skills were a side effect of his diabetes. He was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 15 years old. However, this was something entirely different.
In April 2001, Spitzer was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that strikes the central nervous system, bringing about a host of changes for him and his family.
He can’t tie his shoe laces, he uses a walker to get around, he needs cups with handles and sometimes, when listening to people talk, he can’t immediately make sense of what they are saying.
“For the first time in my life, I felt stupid,” Spitzer said.
Spitzer, along with many others living with the disease, and their friends, families and supporters will gather at Klahowya Secondary School April 2 for Kitsap Walk MS — an event sponsored by the Greater Northwest Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The walk intends to raise awareness of multiple sclerosis and money for research and programs.
As a fifth grade teacher at View Ridge Elementary School in the Bremerton School District, Spitzer continued working after his diagnosis. But four years later, battling fatigue and loss of equilibrium made it difficult for him to teach his class. After he stopped working, things spiraled. He battled with depression and anxiety.
“I felt like I wasn’t worth anything,” he said. “I couldn’t do things I used to do.”
Spitzer jokes that when he is out and about, he uses a walker, but at home he just uses the walls. Taking an antidepressant and finding the “right” medication about a year ago, he has not had any new brain lesions — when he was diagnosed there were 24.
Laurel Spitzer, 54, Kurt Spitzer’s wife, doesn’t work as an elementary school teacher anymore either. She stays at home to help care for her husband. For a while the couple was attending counseling because of all the stress and changes that came along.
“A tsunami warning is like MS. When living with MS, you’re living on while waiting for this tsunami to come,” Laurel Spitzer said, making the connection to recent international and coastal warnings. “You’re always wondering what’s going to happen next.”
Although there is no known cure, there are several drugs that can help with treatment, and three new drugs that will hopefully be approved by the Federal Drug Administration soon, said Dr. Sylvia Lucas, clinical professor of neurology at the University of Washington.
Multiple sclerosis is more prevalent in women than men with a ratio of three to one, Lucas said, adding that people are commonly diagnosed in their 20s and 30s. The Pacific Northwest — sometimes called the “MS belt” — has the highest prevalence of people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, she said. There is no known reason for the region having a high prevalence, she added.
The symptoms vary in individuals but can include fatigue, loss of vision, numbness or cognitive changes. Average life expectancy does not go down because of multiple sclerosis.
“I think people need to live their lives exactly as they would without MS,” Lucas said.
And that is what Kurt Spitzer tries to do. He can drive himself around town as long as it is not at night and not on the freeway. Although he isn’t able to teach, he now tutors at View Ridge five times a week. He also goes to the Bremerton Family YMCA nearly every day to walk in the pool.
Casey Fry, 28, of Bremerton was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis about four years ago, but it hasn’t stopped her from having a family. She is able to care for her 4-year-old son and infant.
“I can still do things. It’s just an annoying feeling,” she said about the feeling in her hands.
If she catches a cold, the numbness in her hands will worsen. Along with the numbness, often times she will have cognitive difficulties where she loses track of what she is trying to say, or will say phrases backwards, which she said is frustrating.
“I’m slower. It takes a lot longer than what it used to,” Fry said, adding that sometimes simple tasks such as doing a puzzle with her son or checking email takes more time than before.
This will be Fry’s third year participating in Kitsap Walk MS, which is how long she has been living in the area. Spitzer has been volunteering with the event for about eight years and both he and Fry have found a network of people for support through the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The northwest chapter raised $40,000 at last year’s event with more than 300 walkers, said Tirza Sanchez-Shaw, the chapter’s vice president of development. The society not only provides money for medical research, but helps families in many ways including organizing support groups and awarding scholarships.
“It’s a shared commitment, everyone is determined,” Sanchez-Shaw said.
Kitsap Walk MS
8:30 a.m., April 2
Klahowya Secondary School
7607 NW Newberry Hill Road, Silverdale