Event offers true look at MS

Stephanie Klebo is anything but the picture of disability. But even without any outward sign of her multiple sclerosis, she has learned to live her life around the heavy fatigue and vision and balance problems it has brought her.

"People always think that people who have disabilities look sick," said Ms. Klebo, 35. "And I don't."

Learning what it is like to be her is the point of an event today called "Living With MS as a Family" at Fort Discovery. It is free and sponsored by the Augusta Multiple Sclerosis Center, a partnership between Walton Rehabilitation Hospital and Medical College of Georgia Neuroscience Center, where Ms. Klebo is a patient.

Because MS is most commonly diagnosed between ages 20 and 30, it's often a family that is affected, said Mary Hughes, the medical director of the MS center.

"It's right in those peak productive years, when we're raising our families, that MS is really affecting us," she said.

MS is a chronic nonfatal disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the coating of nerves in the central nervous system, causing a wide variety of symptoms that can come and go in some patients. Dr. Hughes said the event will have a series of games and challenges to let people without MS experience those symptoms - such as numbness or weakness and difficulties with walking, balance and blurred vision.

"It's a very interesting experience to feel what it feels like to have one leg heavier," she said. "Or to throw a beanbag with one arm that is stiffer than the other. It gives you a whole different insight into the challenges."

Ms. Klebo was a 27-year-old linguist serving in the Air Force in 2000 when she experienced tingling in her arm, severe fatigue and a loss of vision. Even though she was told initially it could be MS, "it was still a shock," she said.

Though she has since left the Air Force, she and her family have learned to work around her fatigue. Her 16-year-old daughter, Heather, helps out with the housework Ms. Klebo can no longer do.

"She complains about it, but she does it," Ms. Klebo said jokingly. And though she had to quit her job at a wine store earlier this year when it became too much, she is still planning to open a wine bar someday.

"I know I'm going to have to have a lot of help because there are days when I won't feel like going in at all," she said. "And I won't be able to carry things around all the time."

But that is something she can live with.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

IF YOU GO

"Living with MS as a Family" will be held from 9 a.m. to noon today at Fort Discovery, 1 Seventh Street, in Augusta. The free event is sponsored by the Augusta Multiple Sclerosis Center.