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Benefit Walk Is a Step in Right Direction

More than 3,000 Orange County participants raised $404,000 for the fight against multiple sclerosis, for which there is no cure.


The average person finds it hard to put a face on multiple sclerosis, or MS. The chronic disease with the unwieldy name is often confused with muscular dystrophy, which strikes children.

But for Bill Bisch and Mina Osheroff, the face of MS is all too familiar. Bisch, 44, has the disease, as does Osheroff's daughter, Stephanie, who was diagnosed when she was 18.

There's no cure for MS, which attacks the central nervous system, causing symptoms that range from tingling and numbness to paralysis and vision loss. That's why Bisch and Osheroff have become champion fund-raisers. The two, both of Mission Viejo, were the top individual fund-raisers at the annual MS Walk last month.

"The key to a cure is funds. With money there is research and with research a cure will come," said Mina Osheroff, who raised $11,500 from friends and associates.

Bisch, who coordinated "Bill's Backers," a team of 105 walkers in matching T-shirts, raised a team total of $35,286. He, his wife, Kristi, and sons J and Andy brought in $16,441. The team produced the balance, he said.

Altogether, more than 3,000 walkers raised $404,000 for the Orange County chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. About 40% goes to the national society, which spent $19.6 million on research last year, according to Jamie MacDonald, president of the Orange County chapter. The remainder goes to local MS programs and services.

For Osheroff, the annual walk is an empowering event.

"MS is a devastating diagnosis. They don't know what causes it, what cures it or what precipitates an attack. You just feel so hopeless and out of control," said Osheroff, who has participated in five MS walks.

By walking and raising funds, she feels she's doing something about it.

She starts in February, sending out almost 300 appeals for pledges to friends, clients and co-workers at ERA/Rafferty and Lloyd in Fountain Valley, where she is a Realtor. This year, Osheroff wrote an introduction and Stephanie wrote the letter describing how MS has affected her.

"It has been eight years since my diagnosis. I have had steroid infusions for attacks when my legs wouldn't work or my eyes crossed. In 1995, I had leg braces made. Over the years, my piano-playing has suffered and my handwriting is horrible but bladder involvement has to be the worst of all" she wrote.

Stephanie, now 26, described herself as "pretty stable," able to walk unassisted most of the time, with clear speech and eyesight. She credits medication (Betaseron) with stabilizing her condition. Her hands and feet are numb, her right leg drags and she tires easily. But she's excited about the correspondence course in natural medicine she's taking, and hopes to help others who have similar conditions "live better, healthier and happier lives" she wrote.

Stephanie, who lives in Costa Mesa with her "very supportive, totally awesome" boyfriend, copes extremely well and is a source of inspiration for her family, her mother said.

Though the symptoms and severity of the disease are different for everyone, being diagnosed with MS can be a life-changing experience.

Bisch, who was 39 when he was diagnosed, had to give up a career in sales and sales promotion, and retire early. He manages his investments and is "Mr. Mom" to the couple's two children while his wife teaches school. He also serves on the board of the county MS society.

Once an avid runner, he walks daily for exercise. He used to function well on five hours sleep, now, he gets eight hours and still feels "wiped out." Once a master of "juggling many, many balls at once," he now finds himself confused at times.

Bisch said it's impossible to tell from his appearance that he has MS. Fatigue is his biggest problem.

"But weird things crop up. I lost my sight for 10 days once. A couple of times, I've had severe walking difficulty. Symptoms come and go. One of the worst things about it is the unpredictability. You think you're doing dandy and you wake up one day and you don't know what will happen next," he said.

Bisch walked five kilometers of the MS course.

"You have to learn your limits. If I walk too far today, my right foot will start dragging and then balance trouble comes into play. But if I walk the same dogged path, I feel pretty good.

"I've met a lot of people with the disease. If you keep a positive outlook, you'll be surprised what can happen," he said.

Through the local MS chapter, he is working to educate the business community about MS, which affects about 3,000 Orange County residents, mostly young working adults.

Actress Annette Funicello and comedian Richard Pryor are probably the most famous faces of MS. But they have extreme forms of the disease, MacDonald said. Most people have relapsing, remitting MS that comes and goes.

"There are thousands of people that you could work right next to and not know they have MS," she said.

As a result, "We have this quiet disease that is the No. 1 immunological disorder of young adults," she said.

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