More than 350 Villagers took a collective, critical step to ending the debilitating illness of Multiple Sclerosis by participating in the Walk MS, Saturday morning at The Villages Polo Fields.
The amount raised from the annual fund raiser has not yet been determined.
“We will continue to receive donations during the next several months,” said Steve Berkovitz, who has been chairman of the Multiple Sclerosis Village People for the past 11 years. “Last year, we raised $74,000 – $17,000 more than 2016. For each of the past five years, we increased collections by $10,000.
“The Villages Walk was one of five similar events held on Saturday throughout Central Florida. Ninety percent of all donations goes directly for services for those with MS, public education programs and for research,” he said.
Other planning committee members were Berkovitz’s wife Cindy, who has MS; Tony Bifulco, Lisa French, Barbara Gaines, Wayne and Mary Grudwel, and Ronn and Judy Heath.
At the starting line, the MS Society’s North Central executive director Michael Ugarte welcomed the 350 participants and thanked them for their support.
“The MS Society is the nation’s largest MS organization,” Ugarte said. “Last year, our area’s Navigator telephone volunteers connected 180,000 people with information and referrals for services and medical care. We also have allocated $40 million to fund 360 local research projects and fellowships.”
A new corporate sponsor was the University of Florida’s Health Multiple Sclerosis Program at Gainesville.
“Our clinical team is filling a ‘critical vacuum in patient care, research, outreach, and education in Multiple Sclerosis in Florida, said neurologist Trisham Gyang, who was introducing the new initiatives. “We offer integrated, multidisciplinary care for patients with MS as well as several other neurological diagnoses.”
Within the next two years, UF estimates that it will annually provide care to 3,000 patients.
“Walk MS is changing the lives of people with MS and helping fuel progress toward a world that is free of MS,” said Lisa Heller, of the Village of Bonita, who had encouraged her neighbors to support her efforts.
MS is one of the most often misdiagnoses and unrecognized diseases, explained her husband Gary. Lois had exhibited symptoms of MS for the past 20 years, but was only diagnosed five years ago.
“Since the first walk in 1988, more than $970 million has been raised,” Lois continued. Today, there are treatments where there weren’t any before. The dream of ending MS is becoming a reality. But, there is still so much to do.”