For Hopkins researcher, battling MS is personal

For Hopkins researcher, battling MS is personal
(Baltimore Sun)

Anna Whetstone, 23, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when she was 17. She was a high school junior in Hershey, Pa., playing on her school's field hockey team when she got hit in the head with a ball.

"I was feeling fine at the time," she said, but over the next few days she had trouble with balance and "wasn't feeling well overall." Computed tomography scans and an MRI discovered the telltale lesions that are signs of the degenerative disease.


After the diagnosis, Whetstone switched from playing to coaching field hockey, but she continued dancing and she earned a neuroscience degree, with honors, at Moravian College in Pennsylvania. She moved to Baltimore to accept a job as a clinical research coordinator at the Multiple Sclerosis Center of Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Since her diagnosis, her mother and brother have also been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease that damages the protective material around nerve cells, blocking messages between the brain and the body. Symptoms can include feelings of weakness, balance problems, numbness and tingling, and difficulty with memory.

Whetstone said the causes of MS remain mysterious. That's why research is so important, and why she supported the National Multiple Sclerosis Society by participating in Walk MS Baltimore, held April 28.

Whetstone and a team of about 25 from the Johns Hopkins MS Center supported this effort, raising $7,000. It was the largest amount raised by a corporate group, making the Hopkins team the first winner of the Maryland chapter's corporate challenge.

"It was a great day," said Whetstone, who participated in Pennsylvania events for multiple sclerosis before moving to Maryland. "It was really fun."

Walk MS Baltimore capped off a series of 5K walks held throughout Maryland in April, said Melissa Slizewski, the chapter's director of public policy and strategy relationships. Combined, the 11 walks attracted 8,000 participants and raised more than $1 million, she said. It's the largest fundraiser of the year for the Maryland chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

This year was unusual because a walk was held in Baltimore City for the first time in six years, and because of the creation of a new initiative called Corporate Challenges.

Five teams participated in the Corporate Challenge, Slizewski said, including the Johns Hopkins MS Center, the Maryland Center for Multiple Sclerosis Treatment and Research at the University of Maryland Medical Center, the Maryland Athletic Club (MAC), ComforCare Senior Services, and PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP.

"The Corporate Challenge did help to bring in more fundraising dollars this year, its inaugural year, and we expect to see it grow next year," said Slizewski.

The Baltimore walk, which began at Power Plant Live, attracted 900 Marylanders and raised more than $125,000, she said.

About 2.1 million people worldwide and 10,000 in Maryland have multiple sclerosis. Many are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, but some, like Whetstone, are diagnosed when they are younger.

Whetstone believes that field hockey ball may have done her a favor by hitting her in the head, leading her to an early diagnosis that improves her ability to manage the disease. "I feel really good," she said, adding, "I've been lucky."

The Maryland chapter is also planning something else new: MuckFest MS, scheduled for June 29. The five-mile mud and obstacle challenge, organized by Event 360, will take place at the Trailway Speedway in Hanover, Pa.

Whetstone said she's already registered, and she's planning to compete with a group of friends.


"I'm excited to see what it will be like," she said.