Debra Ibarra was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis without ever knowing what it was until she got it. Most People that don’t have Multiple Sclerosis never know about it until they get diagnosed with the disease. We all definitely should be raising awareness of Multiple Sclerosis and Debra is now doing that through the walks she participates in. These are great activities that everyone can enjoy and help out in.
Like most people, Debra Ibarra had no idea exactly what multiple sclerosis was — until she was diagnosed with the debilitating disease and decided to do something about it.
“I didn’t know the difference between MD (muscular dystrophy) and MS,” she said.
The Lockport native is a featured participant this year in the city’s Walk MS, which raises money to fund research for a cure as well as increasing awareness about the disease that can cause severe nerve damage. The event, held in conjunction with the Greater Illinois chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, is scheduled for May 4 at Dellwood Park.
This is Ibarra’s second year participating in the event after being diagnosed with MS in January 2013.
“It was empowering,” she said of last year’s event. “So many people have (MS), and there’s so much support out there.”
Ibarra, 43, said people with various stages of MS, from those using canes to those in wheelchairs, participated in last year’s event, and it’s important for everyone to know that they’re not alone in the fight.
Ibarra is still able to walk and drive. But she can’t run, has balance issues and sometimes has dizzy spells.
“This is normal for me,” she said. “I’ll have balance issues for the rest of my life, which I’m OK with until there’s a cure.”
As part of her treatment, Ibarra stands on a leg as her children, RJ, 7, and Allysa, 11, ask her to point at different numbers posted on a wall.
Since their mom’s diagnosis, RJ and Allysa have taken up the cause of fighting MS by getting their schools involved with raising money for research by selling paper shoes.
Walk organizer Lori Julen encourages family and friends of those with the disease to get involved so more attend the fundraisers and become more knowledgeable about MS.
She said the Lockport event had about 700 walkers last year compared with about 400 the first year that she and her family chaired the event. Last year’s walk raised more than $60,000, Julen said.
An MS patient, Julen has been involved with the MS walk for nine years and became in charge of the event three years later after she said the previous organizers quit.
“I kind of ruffled some feathers with the people who were running the site, but I didn’t mean to,” Julen said.
She said she had noticed that the route wasn’t wheelchair accessible because of gravel and some stairs, and “I didn’t understand how we can have an MS walk and not have it be accessible.” After taking over, “I just made it a path that was all blacktop,” Julen said.
She said participants can still use the older portion of the park, which includes the stairs, and make it a longer walk but they don’t have to.
Julen said the fundraiser is a fun, family event that includes a bounce house and face painting for children and a DJ.
The Lockport Walk MS is one of several being held May 4 in the Chicago area, including one at Centennial Park in Orland Park. Lori Carroll, who organizes the Orland Park walk, said the event draws up to a thousand people every year.
“For the past couple of years, turnout has been phenomenal,” she said.
Like the Lockport event, Carroll said the walk is also filled with family activities and includes music entertainment from her daughter’s band, Audiomatic. She said area restaurants, such as Mimi’s Cafe, Fox’s Pizza and Hooters donate food for those taking part in the walk.
Carroll became involved with the event because she has lived with MS for 32 years.
“I have a very positive attitude,” she said. “… The good Lord dealt me a hand of cards, and how I play the hand is up to me.”