MaryJo DiBernardo-Knis has a message for the more than 125 others living in Lawrence County who suffer from multiple sclerosis.
“You are still who you are and you can do whatever you want to do,” said the 51-year-old who developed MS later in life.
She had some symptoms, but didn’t make too much of it at first. Constantly fatigued, DiBernardo-Knis was slurring words and having a difficult time walking.
“One day I became so fatigued,” she said. There was numbness on the left side of her body.
A friend noticed her left eye was turning in, so she went to an eye doctor, who recommended an MRI of her brain.
“After that, they told me I had MS and I had to ask, ‘What is MS?’ ” she said.
She learned MS is a chronic, slowly progressive disease of the central nervous system in which the myelin sheath that covers the nerves hardens, resulting in difficulties with muscle control, involuntary movements of the eyeballs, speech problems and tremor. Multiple sclerosis is marked by a history of remissions and exacerbations.
Signs and symptoms vary widely, depending on the amount of damage and which nerves are affected. Some people with severe MS may lose the ability to walk independently or at all, while others experience long periods of remission during which they develop no new symptoms.
There’s no cure, but treatments can help speed recovery from attacks, modify the course of the disease and manage symptoms.
DiBernardo-Knis is a 1981 graduate of New Castle High. She has three children from her first marriage and two from her second.
Although she’s had to deal with the disease for more than a decade, DiBernardo-Knis remains upbeat and thankful. “I’ve got five healthy kids,” she said. She also points out that MS is not genetic.
MS strikes most often those between the ages of 20 and 60.
“I was never sick a day in my life, and I always worked out,” she said.
She receives Vitamin B-12 injections each week and travels to Pittsburgh each month for an IV infusion that takes two hours. Still, it’s a small price to pay for having independence.
“You learn to accept it and deal with it,” said DiBernardo-Knis, who is back to walking as many as four miles per day.
“Through it all, I’ve become a stronger person,” DiBernardo-Knis said.
And she wants others to know they can be, too.