Polly Malehorn seldom finds positives in having multiple sclerosis, but she considers musician Chris Isaak’s song playlist a memorable fringe benefit. “I like to go to concerts at Red Rocks, and I sit in the front row for a lot of shows,” said Malehorn, who has seen rock stars such as Neil Young, Don Henley and Natalie Merchant at the Red Rocks Amphitheater, in Morrison. “I can get handicapped seating, so that goes to show there’s a few perks in having MS. I’ve collected a lot of guitar picks, and my husband, Dave, got one of Neil Young’s drummer’s sticks.”For 22 years, Malehorn has suffered symptoms of MS, defined by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society as “a chronic, unpredictable neurological disease that affects the central nervous system.” The disease is not inherited and not fatal, and there is no cure.”I just started limping on my left foot, and my eyesight was messed up,” said the 49-year-old mother of two daughters who was 27 when she first noticed MS symptoms. “I was working up at Sunlight on the lifts in the early ’80s and a lady fell. I went down to pick her up and a chair whacked me in the head. I was dizzy for about a month and had a CAT scan.”
Malehorn said she doesn’t believe the head injury caused MS, but the accident might have triggered her symptoms.”It was really weird. I hiked down the Grand Canyon, and I was dizzy,” she said. “My first husband and I liked to backpack a lot, and we were hiking up Old Snowmass Creek the summer I was diagnosed, and I just couldn’t hike. Just out of frustration I said, ‘I probably have MS or something.’ I really didn’t know what I was talking about.”A series of medical procedures in Grand Junction, including a vision test called evoked potential, and a painful spinal tap, led to Malehorn’s MS diagnosis.”I had one spinal tap, and that was enough,” she said. “A lot has changed. I had symptoms before the MRI. It’s amazing the progress.”Like the majority of people with MS, Malehorn has not become severely disabled from her disease. Just five and a half years ago she retired from the Department of Social Services. She raises 15- and 11-year-old daughters with her husband, swims four times a week at the Hot Springs Pool, and enjoys monoskiing with Challenge Aspen and scuba diving in Mexico during family vacations.
“I’ve been skiing with Challenge Aspen for eight years, but this past winter I just was not up to it. But I’m doing it this winter because I will be 50 at the end of the year,” said Malehorn, a skier who came to the state from Wisconsin to attend Colorado Mountain College in an era when people referred to it as “See Me Ski.” “Talk is cheap, but I have something to prove to myself because I wimped out this year.”Malehorn also stays active by helping organize the MS Walk in Glenwood Springs with co-committee members and friends Tillie Fischer and Peggy Donelan, which she has done for the past five years.”To me, Polly is one of those people who has never given up,” said Fischer, a staunch supporter of MS research and programs whose adult son has the disease. “She is an inspiration to make you want to work. The walk is for Polly and all of the Pollys in the world.”Fischer said she finds inspiration in Malehorn’s willingness to try anything to fight MS, including new treatments that come on the market to help slow her symptoms. Malehorn said she planned to try the MS drug Tysabri, which doctors considered promising until it was pulled from the market in February after one patient died and a second become seriously ill.”People on Tysabri were really showing improvement and really getting better,” Malehorn said. “I went to see my doctor about it, and I was going to do an infusion, which is a way they give you the drug intravenously.”
For now, Malehorn continues to take her previously prescribed medication and antibiotics, and maintain an active lifestyle – including riding her hand-pedal bike at the MS Walk on Saturday, May 14 – to cope with MS.”The walk is really empowering,” she said. “What’s really heartwarming is to see all the families and friends I have there. It’s just really neat to be there with a lot of people.”Contact April E. Clark: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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