Jill Snell and her son Beau
Jill Snell and her son Beau

Multiple sclerosis is a neurodegenerative disease affecting between 400,000 and 1 million Americans, the symptoms of which can range from numbness and blurred vision to blindness and paralysis.

But for Jill Snell, of Hampstead, her MS journey began with what she thought was a minor injury.


"It was my son's first year wrestling and so we were playing around out the house and what I thought was just a tweaked neck from wrestling around with him ended up actually being MS," Snell said.

That was in late 2013. A few months later, in February 2014, after an MRI and several doctors visits, Snell had her diagnosis, for which she is grateful.

"That's not normally how it works for people. Sometimes it can take years and be really frustrating," she said. "But since they thought it was a neck injury, I got an MRI right away."

If her son Beau's wrestling helped Snell get her diagnosis quickly, it also helped her find a supportive community: Two years ago, Beau's North Carroll Recreation Council wrestling team help put together a team with Snell for Walk MS: Westminster, a fund and awareness raising event of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Snell, her friend and her family, all plan to attend this year's walk, to be held at 9 a.m. Sunday, April 15, at East Middle School, in Westminster.

"We raised about $8,000 the first year and right around $10,000 the second year," Snell said. "This year we are already at about $4,000, so we are really excited."

Walk MS is the largest fundraising vehicle for the National MS Society, according to Chartese Berry, president of the greater D.C.-Maryland chapter. Held annually in cities across the U.S. since 1988, it has raised a total of $1 billion dollars through 2017, she said.

"The Westminster walk happens to be one of our smaller walks, but we are looking to raise about $30,000 with this year's walk," Berry said. "That will roll up into a total of about $1.7 million we are looking to raise in the entire [D.C.-Maryland] market."

And those funds go toward research and the support of people with MS and their families, according to Berry.

"We are the world's largest private funder of MS research," she said. "We focus on advocacy on the state and federal level for people living with MS. A lot of that has to do with making sure that people who get modification sto their home so they can living indepdently."

In 2017, the National MS Society celebrated FDA approval of the first ever treatment for the primary-progressive form of MS — Ocrelizumab, which helps reduce inflammation in the central nervous system.

"Those patients had no hope, because quite frankly, there was nothing on the market for them to take," Berry said. "We are very excited about that therapy."

But there is still no cure for MS, and the hope that research that has created the existing treatments will one day find one is part of what motivates Snell to walk each year. A cure not just for herself, but her children.

It’s National Public Health Week, and the each day the Times is exploring a different aspect of the Carroll County Health Department’s efforts to keep Carroll healthy.

"I have a little girl on the way in June and obviously with a mom that has MS it puts them at a higher risk for having MS themselves," she said. "Ideally by the time they are older we would find a cure and the only we are going to do that is if we keep doing research."


Although some people like Snell have been fundraising for Sunday's walk a awhile, Berry said there is still time for people to get involved and come out to the walk and contribute.

"If you go to www.nationalmssociety.org, you can plug in your zip code. Or people can walk up and register on-site," she said. "There is no registration fee, but of course it is a fundraising walk so we hope people will make a donation."

But no one should stay home simply because they cannot make a donation that day, Berry said; you can donate online at any time, and the walk is also about raising awareness and building community as much as raising money.

"It's really where people rally about loved ones and family," she said. "Usually for people who are newly diagnosed, it is their entry point into the movement."

And for those that feel they don't have anyone to rally around, Snell suggests that maybe they do and just don't know it.

"It is an invisible disease. That's part of my message," she said. "What I tell our son is you need to be kind at all times because you don't know what people are fighting. Just because you can't see on the outside that they are struggling with something doesn't mean that they are not."

If you go

What: Walk MS: Westminster

When: 9 a.m. Sunday April 15

Where: East Middle School, 121 Longwell Ave., Westminster

Cost: Free to walk and donations appreciated.

For more information, to donate to a team or to register in advance, visit www.nationalmssociety.org, scroll down and click on "find an event and search by state or zip code.