Courtesy of the Times
For the Halpern family, multiple sclerosis is a disease that has affected the entire family, not just its matriarch, Donna.
Donna Halpern was diagnosed with MS while she was in her late 20s, when it began as problems with her vision and her knees, says her husband, Fred Halpern.
Fred Halpern, who owns Albert’s Jewelers, says after his wife was first diagnosed, she was able to lead a fairly normal life, and could golf, do housework, and keep up with the family.
But over the next 35 years, Donna Halpern, now 66, has undergone numerous treatments to stave off its progression through her nervous system.
After a fall, it affected her back to the point she now needs to get around in a wheelchair.
“It’s affected her bladder, her knees, her vision, her hearing. Over time, it has taken a lot of her motor skills away,” Fred Halpern says. “It’s a terrible disease.”
Dr. Mridula Prasad, medical director for the Methodist Hospital MS Center, says multiple sclerosis is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system, which includes the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves.
It presents with symptoms of fatigue, numbness, temporary loss of vision in one eye, difficulty walking or balance issues, stiffness or muscle spasms, and bowel and bladder problems.
Treatment has evolved over the years, and while there is no cure, Dr. Prasad says the symptoms can be managed and there are new medications and treatments available.
“Before, symptoms were managed, but now we have disease modifying medications,” she says. “Dependent of the person and symptoms, more and more new medications are now available to manage and slow the progression of MS. With the push for research, many more new treatments are expected.”
And while there is nothing anyone can do to prevent MS, it is important to catch the disease early to help prevent disabilities.
“The treatments are to maintain quality of life and control symptoms,” she says.
Fred Halpern says he has made sure his wife has all the resources possible to fight the disease.
“She gets drugs, infusions, whatever it takes to hopefully slow down the disease,” he says. “My girl has been through a lot of misery with this disease.”
She also does aqua therapy in a pool, either here or in their Florida home during the winter.
Through it all, however, she has faced the disease with a positive attitude and a strength and fortitude of character, he says.
“She thinks there are people who have things worse than she has,” he says. “She has a good outlook, always looks on the sunny side of the street. She wants to live for her children and grandchildren.”
But, he says, he knows many families aren’t as lucky as he is, and don’t have the best resources at their fingertips. Which is why the family, and his business, have been heavily involved in raising money for the National MS Society.
Each year he holds an auction at his store, Albert’s Jewelers, to raise money for MS research. He also participates in numerous other fundraisers, and donates personally, as well. Last year, he donated between $150,000 and $200,000 between all his fund-raising efforts.
“The help and support we get is unbelievable,” he says. “We have amazing teamwork, and companionship, everyone wants to do good and raise money for research.”
This November, Fred Halpern and his son, Josh, are going to Colorado for a National MS Society Volunteer Hall of Fame banquet, where they have been nominated for an award for their fundraising and awareness efforts.
“I would love to see a cure. I don’t know that it would ever help my wife, but it will help someone, some day,” he says. “We’re trying.”