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MS 1

Jen Gogerty, of Mason City, talks about her experiences after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2002.

Five years.

That’s how long it took Jen Gogerty, of Mason City, to accept her “new normal.”

“I was this young, healthy, active person, and everything just seemed to be turned upside down,” she said.

Three months after Gogerty’s son, Neil, was born, her vision changed.

Walk MS

Jen Gogerty and her son, Neil, at a previous Walk MS event in Mason City. This year, Walk MS is Saturday at Southbridge Mall.

Color, like red, looked different in each of her eyes, but an eye appointment yielded little resolve. Six weeks later, it went away.

But then, other things occurred leading to more appointments. Gogerty had difficulty holding onto a baby spoon to feed her son, clasping her necklace and writing. Her balance was off, and one whole side of her body went numb.

On July 31, 2002, Gogerty, who was 28, was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, or MS, after a neurologist ordered a MRI.

“That was the day my life changed forever,” she said, recalling sitting in the hospital room with her husband, Eric, and their 11-month-old son when she got the news. “It was scary because I had no idea what MS was.”

Gogerty is one of nearly 1 million Americans with the chronic, unpredictable disease of the central nervous system.

MS is believed to be an immune-mediated disorder, in which the immune system incorrectly attacks healthy tissue in the central nervous system. The resulting damage disrupts the flow of information between the brain and spinal cord and other parts of the body causing symptoms that range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

The cause of MS is still unknown, and there is no cure.

The type of MS Gogerty has, relapsing-remitting, is the most common and is characterized by clearly defined attacks — also called relapses or exacerbations — of new or increasing neurologic symptoms followed by periods of partial or complete recovery.

She has been on an oral medication she takes daily to modify her disease course for the past eight years. It’s her fourth medication in 17 years, and each switch was prompted by a relapse.

In 2009, she experienced three relapses within a nine-month period after an infusion that was part of a study.

“I consider myself very lucky because I have recovered from my exacerbations,” she said. “Nothing has really remained permanent from those situations, so I’m very thankful for that because I’ve been able to continue to live an active life.”

However, Gogerty’s MS journey hasn’t been without challenges, she said.

In the beginning — and sometimes yet today — she struggled to accept the changes the diagnosis had on her life. Sometimes the fatigue is so debilitating, she’s unable to complete all the items on her to-do list, and other times, she can hardly walk because of her balance.

“What I call it is your new normal,” she said. “You adjust, you adapt, and it takes time. Everybody’s different because there’s different symptoms or outcomes.”

Gogerty continues to work part-time in cardiac rehabilitation at MercyOne North Iowa Medical Center in Mason City and attend her son’s activities.

She said her coworkers, her family and her friends have been “incredibly supportive” throughout her journey’s ups and downs.

“I couldn’t do any of this without them,” she said. “They’re all amazing.”

Over the years, as Gogerty began accepting her diagnosis, she’s become more involved in MS-related activities, like Walk MS, an event that raises funds for services, research, advocacy, awareness and resources that’ll benefit individuals affected by MS.

This year, she’s coordinating the Mason City event for the first time. It takes place at 9 a.m. Saturday at Southbridge Mall, 100 S. Federal Ave.

Gogerty’s participated in the event for the past 14 years. She’s the captain of Team F.R.O.G., or Friends Relatives of Gogerty, and the team’s raised nearly $30,000.

“I’m a true believer that they will find something, whether it’s a cure or something close to that, that’s going to help with MS, and it’s something we can do together,” she said. “The walk is a great way for people to come together and celebrate.”

Celebrate the things they’ve accomplished together for those with MS, she added.

Megan O’Neal, a spokeswoman with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, said the Mason City walk is expected to draw more than 200 area individuals with the goal to raise $37,000.

The event will feature food, five-minute mini massages, resources and fellowship, thanks to the generosity of businesses and organizations within the community. Gogerty said the community support has been fantastic and greatly appreciated.

After the walk, Fat Hill Brewing will host a “Walk MS: Brews for a Cure” event from 1 to 6 p.m. featuring live music, a barbecue buffet and cupcakes. A $1 from each beer pint will go toward MS research. Doors open at noon.

“I would just encourage people to come out, join a team and see what we’re about,” Gogerty said.

The Mason City event is among nearly 400 across the U.S. featuring almost 300,000 participants and volunteers, O’Neal said.

Walk MS, which was launched in 1988, raised more than $38 million nationally, and its cumulative fundraising surpassed $1 billion in 2017.

Gogerty said despite being diagnosed with MS, she wouldn’t change a thing over the last 17 years because it’s made her who she is, which is someone who doesn’t take things for granted.

“I know it sounds weird because I have MS, and I get that, but it’s made me a different person, and I’ve met so many people along this journey. Why would I want to change that?” She said. “MS creates bad situations, but it also puts you in good situations.”

For more information about multiple sclerosis or Walk MS, visit www.nationalmssociety.org.

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Reach Reporter Ashley Stewart at 641-421-0533. Follow her on Twitter at GGastewart.

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