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Taking steps

Tyler Dodge doesn’t think he’s an unusual kid. He rides his scooter, goes to school, plays ball, likes fast downhill skiing, and watches “Survivor” with his mom, Sharon, after his twin sisters Sarah and Caitlyn go to bed. Tyler’s schedule isn’t much different from that of other kids.

But to people in Oak Harbor and across the state, 10-year-old Tyler is unusual. In fact, some people call him “amazing.”

Saturday, April 17, Tyler will be one of many kids walking with their families in a Multiple Sclerosis Society walk in Bellingham.

However, unlike a lot of kids his age, Tyler will have a reason for walking and raising money.

“I just want to help my mom,” Tyler said.

Tyler’s mom, Sharon Dodge, has Multiple Sclerosis, a disease of the nervous system that’s tricky to diagnose and comes with a maddening variety of symptoms.

“Tyler is amazing,” Elizabeth Griffin said. “At such a young age, he has a passion to raise money for MS.” Griffin is communications director for the MS Society’s Greater Washington chapter.

At last year’s MS Walk, Sharon Dodge was honored for her efforts in raising money. Tyler walked then.

“When we finished Tyler said, ‘That was too easy, just walking. Next year I want to do it right and raise money,’ ” Sharon said.

Tyler set up his own page at the MS Web site so people could e-pledge to him. He also asked all his former and current teachers for pledges. No one refused. Julie Fakkema, his teacher at Oak Harbor Christian School, did more than donate. She joined the Dodges on Team Hope.

“I am so impressed with the determination and optimism Sharon and Tyler have,” Fakkema said. “They are so committed to finding out how to get through MS.

“Tyler shares his mom’s determination and he’s very self-motivated,”

“Their positive attitudes are amazing and I want to be part of that. — to show my support as a teacher and a friend,” Fakkema added.

By the end of March, Tyler’s goal of $100 was long eclipsed. He’s raised about $700 for MS.

“I wasn’t expecting this much,” he said.

Tyler still doesn’t think his efforts at raising money are anything unusual.

“Tyler gets so excited when another pledge comes in,” Sharon said.

Tyler could have stopped once he met his goal, but he kept going.

“I know more money is out there,” he said.

Knowing the money will go to MS research pleases Tyler. However, 70 percent of the money raised during the Bellingham walk will stay in Western Washington, MS Society’s Griffin said. The rest goes to research and national programs, with only a fraction going to fundraising and administrative costs.

“Nationally, MS is highly committed to maintaining a low fundraising ratio,” Griffin said. The MS Society spends about 20 percent of funds to raise more money. The national average for non-profits is 25 percent, Griffin added.

More than half of what remains in Western Washington goes directly to local programs to help people who have MS and their families, Griffin said. All those programs, which include physician referrals, newsletters, seminars, advocacy, support groups and financial assistance, are free.

“Tyler’s really excited about doing something that helps his mother,” his father, Bill, said.

Sharon Dodge has relapsing-remitting MS. Like every other MS patient, her symptoms were varying and being diagnosed with MS took some time.

MS killed Sharon’s father Walter when he was only 49. And Sharon said she was “shocked to learn” she had MS.

“MS isn’t inherited,” she said. “It’s very unusual for family members to contract MS.”

Since being diagnosed, Sharon has been on different drugs to battle the disease. Last year she took a shot once a week and felt like she had the flu every time.

Earlier this year, an MRI showed new lesions on her brain, so doctors switched her to a new drug. The new daily shot doesn’t make her feel sick, but the shot is extremely painful.

“The first time I gave myself a shot, I yelled so loudly I woke up Tyler,” Sharon said.

But she’s grateful for the drugs. “Many treatments today were not available for my father,” she said.

MS doesn’t limit Sharon. She does what she wants when she wants to do it.

“My mom’s lucky,” Tyler said. “Lots of people with MS can’t walk.”

Sharon is convinced a cause and cure for MS will be found in her lifetime.

“That’s why I’m here,” she said. “To raise money and awareness about MS.”

“Look at all the blessings our family has,” she continued while she watched her children Tyler, Sarah and Caitlyn riding scooters and bikes. “Anytime I get down I realize I’m wasting time. There is too much to do to spend time being depressed.”

Tyler’s also too busy to spend a lot of time worrying.

His mother being very tired from MS symptoms does frustrate him. But he has plans.

“Lots of skiing downhill fast and doing the MS Walk every year with my mom,” he said after jumping a curb on his scooter.

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What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system. Symptoms may be mild or severe. The progress, severity, and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot be predicted.

MS is thought to be an autoimmune disease. The body’s defense system attacks myelin, the substance that surrounds and protects the nerve fibers of the central nervous system. The damaged myelin may form scar tissue (sclerosis). When any part of the myelin sheath or nerve fiber is damaged or destroyed, nerve impulses can’t be relayed correctly.

Most people with MS cope with the disease, and live productive lives.

Source: www.nmss.org.

MS isn’t inherited but there is a genetic pattern, said Elizabeth Griffin of the MS Society’s chapter of Greater Washington. People with Northern European backgrounds are more likely to develop the disease. The distance a person lives the equator also is a factor.

“In Washington, MS is a very local concern,” Griffin said.

In Island County, the MS Society has 106 clients. According to Griffin, 750 other people from family and friends to coworkers and caregivers are affected by MS in Island County.

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