Mother and daughter share a lot — including MS

Katie Hankinson
Post Independent contributor
Polly Malehorn and daughter Emily Miskiewicz will participate in Saturday's walk at the No Name rest area to raise money for multiple sclerosis.
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For Polly Malehorn and her daughter Emily Miskiewicz, a positive attitude is vital while walking through life with multiple sclerosis.

With no cause or cure presently in sight for those with MS, efforts like Saturday’s Walk MS Glenwood help raise awareness and money for research. Research is not the only objective though; the walk helps form an uplifting community with connections and support for anyone coping with MS who needs it.

Malehorn and Miskiewicz, both of Glenwood Springs, will participate in the Walk MS Glenwood event at 7 a.m. Saturday starting at the No Name rest area east of Glenwood Springs on Interstate 70. The event raises money committed to finding a cure — and welcoming anyone into their community who wishes to be a part of it.

When she was 27 in 1983, Polly Malehorn began to notice painful changes in her vision and walking. While backpacking in the Grand Canyon, she noticed she was having a harder time hiking than usual.

Colorado presently has one of the highest prevalences of MS in the United States, at 12,700 people, nearly 200 of these people being residents of the Roaring Fork Valley.

“I was limping around for no reason. It started with some eyesight problems, and I thought I just needed glasses. But it wasn’t that,” Malehorn said. “I went to an internist, and he directed me to a neurologist, and that was when I was diagnosed.”

At the time, no such thing as an MRI existed to help pinpoint what was wrong, and doctors didn’t prescribe medicine to stop the pain.

That was not the case for Malehorn’s daughter Emily Miskiewicz. Miskiewicz, who was diagnosed with MS at the age of 24 in 2013, 30 years after her mother, underwent similar symptoms, noting she had always had headaches, and woke up one day unable to see out of her right eye. After more advanced neurological tests, including an MRI, doctors confirmed Miskiewicz also had MS.

“We weren’t happy that I had been diagnosed,” Miskiewicz said. “We cried a little bit, but we tried to stay positive. She [her mother] was very supportive. I was lucky to have her, because I knew a little bit about it before I was diagnosed. It was a lot easier having a mom with MS to stay informed, as well as seeing what an amazing life she has had as well.”

Miskiewicz, a teacher at Blue Lake Preschool in El Jebel, said that while medical advancements have been made, she prefers not to use any medication because it causes her more discomfort.

“When my mom was diagnosed in the ’80s, there was no treatment for MS,” Miskiewicz said. “She went many years without treatment, and I thought that was the reason why she had been affected the way she had been. I didn’t want anything like that to happen to me, so I got on MS stuff, but they [the MS medications] made me sick. I don’t take any medication right now, and I try to eat healthy and exercise, and I actually feel a lot better. The drugs made me feel worse.”

Both Malehorn and Miskiewicz said Saturday’s walk provides a positive atmosphere and helps form a supportive community for people with MS. Overall, they said, staying healthy and active is key for anyone living with MS.

“The greatest thing is all the people,” Malehorn said of the Walk. “It’s a really positive thing. I’ve got the dog out there, and I go on my hand pedal bike. It’s great to see people you haven’t seen in awhile.”

Her daughter added that it’s been “nice reaching out to people and sharing their experiences.”

“None of us want MS, but it is nice to have a community to go to for support, and know we’re all here to find a cure,” Miskiewicz said.

Malehorn has participated in the walk for almost 15 years, and Miskiewicz has walked on and off for four years, but has participated every year since her diagnosis.

Colorado presently has one of the highest prevalences of MS in the United States, at 12,700 people, nearly 200 of these people being residents of the Roaring Fork Valley. One in every 400 people in Colorado will be diagnosed with MS on average between the ages of 20 to 50. MS is more common to be found in women than men.

The Walk MS Glenwood has taken place for 23 years. The Glenwood event is one of 13 walks that takes place in the Colorado and Wyoming chapter. Eighty-four percent of the money raised from walks in the Colorado-Wyoming chapter goes toward national research projects.

According to National MS Society representative Suzanne Reel, an estimated 300 participants — “hopefully more,” she added — will participate in the walk Saturday, with a goal of raising $60,000. Last year, $53 million was raised by walks nationally, enough money to fund 40 projects per chapter, adding up to a total of 380 projects worldwide.

The walk “brings people together,” Miskiewicz said. “Not to celebrate exactly, but to not ignore it. We want to find a cure someday. We want to get rid of it. And this is a positive way to do it.”

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