By RICK WATSON
Meridith Bottchen was 28 years old when she began to feel an odd tingling in her left arm and leg. It would have been easy to dismiss, but she realized her grandfather with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) had similar symptoms.
Even though she knew the disease would change her life, she decided she wasn’t going to take it sitting down.
Meridith got treatment right away to address her own health, but she also became a fundraising machine to help raise money for research for the disease. Her efforts with the Alabama-Mississippi Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society have also helped raise awareness about MS.
“I told her she missed her calling,” said Meridith’s father, Steve Bottchen, who works for the City of Homewood. “She should have been a professional fundraiser.”
“Team Bottchen” participates in Birmingham Walk MS each year and has raised thousands for the MS Society.
This year Steve wanted a little more of a challenge, so they signed up to walk 50 miles in three days for the Challenge Walk in Charleston in March.
Now that they have completed that challenge, the duo are preparing for the local Walk MS scheduled for Saturday, April 14 at Homewood Park.
Multiple Sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that interrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease.
Treatment is improving because of the focused work by the MS society, but the road for those like Meridith is still not a smooth one. She said there are some days she doesn’t want to get out of bed, but she pushes through that.
“I’m more aware of exercise, and nutrition,” Meridith said. “Discovering I had MS was a wakeup call. We sometimes take our bodies for granted.”
Meridith knows in the future there may be days when she can’t get up and said it’s hard knowing that her body isn’t functioning like it should. One of the hardest things about the disease is that she thinks her father feels somehow responsible, because it was his father who had MS in the late 60s and 70s.
“But this disease is no one’s fault,” she said firmly. Indeed, there are so many unknowns about MS, which is why it’s so important to keep raising money for research so that more can be learned about causes and therapies.
Meridith is upbeat about the future. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Phoenix, and her goal is to take advantage of management opportunities at Blue Cross, where she has worked for nine years.
“I also hope to slow down enough to get married and have kids one day,” she said.
The Alabama-Mississippi Chapter of the MS Society provides programs and services to more than 6,000 people in both states who are living with MS. Some of their programs and services include financial assistance, educational programs, college scholarships, family day programs, and a children’s camp. Funding for the programs and services are generated through events such as Walk MS, Evening of Wines, The Stand Against MS, Bike MS, MS Leadership Class and donations.