Mercy to open center for people with multiple sclerosis

08/22/2013 12:00 AM

08/22/2013 10:23 AM

People suffering from multiple sclerosis can look forward to more support in December with the opening of a new MS center at a location to be chosen in the Sacramento area.

With an $890,000 grant from the Conrad H. Hilton Foundation, Mercy Medical Group will launch the MS Achievement Center, geared toward empowering people with MS through fitness and education.

"We have MS, but we still have lives to lead," said former Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo, who learned she had MS in 1996 and went public with her condition in 2007.

MS involves an immune system attack against the central nervous system. The chronic disease varies widely from person to person, but severe symptoms include paralysis and blindness.

The new Mercy Center will be the first of its kind in Northern California, inspired by the success of the MS achievement center at UCLA. Dr. John Schafer, a neurologist and MS specialist, will lead the center.

"This will provide a social group that people with MS need badly," Schafer said, adding that many people affected by MS rarely leave their homes.

Fargo agreed that socialization is a huge resource – people with MS can compare notes about medications, doctors or newly necessary purchases.

"Choosing a walker or a cane looks simple from the outside, but it's not," she said.

The center will initially be open four to five hours, one day per week, and provide recreational activities, health care education and access to physical therapy. Schafer mentioned that staff might volunteer to teach extra classes such as computer strategies or crafting.

Schafer is selecting a staff and a location in the Sacramento area. He's also exploring funding models – the grant is intended to cover costs for the center's first three years, but Mercy will need to find additional grants or programs to sustain it.

Schafer said he's interested in charging patients a weekly fee on a sliding scale, which would keep the center open to those who can't afford it.

Tukey Seagraves, 65-year-old Granite Bay resident with MS, is looking forward to the center's opening. Her unusual situation – she used a wheelchair for eight years but suddenly was able to walk again – has brought a sunny outlook on life and can make her part of someone else's support system.

"To have someone who knows what it's like help you makes all the difference," Seagraves said.

Call The Bee's Janelle Bitker, (916) 321-1027. Follow her in Twitter @JanelleBitker.

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