By Jen Bakken
DELANO, MN When Amanda (Braith) Ellefson graduated from Delano High School in 1998, she never anticipated a chronic disease would alter her life’s path.
Diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 2003, Ellefson wondered if the disease would take her life, or keep her from having children, and what would happen to her future plans?
Growing up in Delano, the daughter of Stephanie and Tom Braith, Ellefson could not have imagined that she would one day be chosen as an ambassador by the National MS Society.
As a 2012 MS Walk Twin Cities ambassador, she is busy speaking at events, promoting the walk, and raising awareness about the disease.
“It’s been very exciting sharing my story,” said Ellefson. “I’m very passionate about raising awareness, financial resources, and educating others about MS, so that the MS Society can continue researching the cause and cure.”
For six years, Ellefson has been involved with the MS Walk Twin Cities with her team, “Amanda’s Hope.”
Tired of fearing MS, what it had done and would do to her life, she wanted to do something that would tangibly help the MS movement and bring purpose to her life.
In 2011, team Amanda’s Hope was the MS Walk Cup Winner, based on fundraising, donation average, percentage of fundraising growth, and percentage of increase in team members. The team was also chosen as the most-improved team, second-place fundraising team in the Twin Cities, and third-place fundraising team in Minnesota. In 2011, the team raised $13,582. Over the past six years, a total of $40,000 has been raised by Amanda’s Hope.
“Every hour of every day someone is newly diagnosed with MS,” Ellefson said. “And, even though there is no cure, I know what we do does make a difference because I am on a treatment that didn’t even exist when I was first diagnosed.
“I’m hoping I can encourage others to learn more about MS, volunteer, make a donation to fund MS research, support an event participant, or join a team for the walk.”
For Ellefson, the Walk for MS gives her an overwhelming feeling of support to walk amongst family, friends, others with MS, and strangers who are doing what they can to create a world free of MS.
“I love that each of us can do something to raise awareness about MS,” she said. “It’s amazing to be part of a team and see all the funds that are raised for research and programs for those living with MS.”
Although Ellefson has a positive outlook and the support of her husband, Ryan Ellefson, and family and friends, that does not diminish the struggles she faces with MS. Having a chronic disease is often misunderstood and can be a very isolating experience.
“It’s tough for some to understand,” she explained, “because I don’t always look sick on the outside, and it’s what is happening inside, that can’t be seen.”
Ellefson was chosen as a walk ambassador after nominations were made by family and friends, for her spirit and dedication.
For more information about MS and the walk, or to donate to team Amanda’s Hope for the MS Walk Sunday, May 6, follow the links from the Delano Herald Journal homepage.
What is Multiple Sclerosis
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, MS is thought to be an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS consists of the brain, spinal cord, and the optic nerves. Surrounding and protecting the nerve fibers of the CNS is fatty tissue called myelin, which helps nerve fibers conduct electrical impulses.
In MS, myelin is lost in multiple areas, leaving scar tissue called sclerosis. These damaged areas are also known as plaques or lesions. Sometimes, the nerve fiber itself is damaged or broken.
Myelin not only protects nerve fibers, but makes their job possible. When myelin or the nerve fiber is destroyed or damaged, the ability of the nerves to conduct electrical impulses to and from the brain is disrupted, and this produces the various symptoms of MS.
There are four clinical courses of disease, each of which might be mild, moderate, or severe.
Symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary from person to person and from time to time in the same person. For example, one person may experience abnormal fatigue, while another might have severe vision problems.
A person with MS could have loss of balance and muscle coordination, making walking difficult; another person with MS could have slurred speech, tremors, stiffness, and bladder problems. While some symptoms may come and go over the course of the disease, others may be more lasting.