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Multiple Sclerosis Society expands to NWT
More access to neurologists, peer support promised

Katie May
Northern News Services
Published Tuesday, April 20, 2010

NWT - When Rosalie Smith found out she had Multiple Sclerosis, she was relieved.

NNSL photo/graphic

Yellowknife resident Rosalie Smith, here with her husband Keith, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1986. - NNSL file photo

Finally, after 10 years of unexplained numbness, blurred vision and sudden temporary paralysis, she had an explanation.

"When my doctor told me, I gave her the biggest hug, saying 'thank you, thank you!'" she recalled. "Because the doctors had been telling me it was all in my head. And it was in my head, because I've got lesions on my brain."

That was 23 years ago. Since then, the Yellowknife resident has sometimes been a one-woman support group for others in NWT who are dealing with MS, a complex neurological disease with wide-ranging effects and no known cure.

Her work on that front should get a little easier now that the MS Society of Canada's Alberta chapter has expanded to include the NWT, bringing with it funding for a peer support group facilitator and promises of increased access to neurological specialists and resources.

There are no records of how many NWT residents have MS, but based on her contacts, Smith estimates there are around 50.

As part of an effort to expand to rural areas, the society is holding an open house on April 22 and an MS fair on April 24 in Yellowknife, with guest speaker Dr. Norbert Witt, an Edmonton neurologist.

"We wanted to make sure that every Canadian, no matter where you live in the country, has access to the services of the MS Society," said Alberta-NWT society president Neil Pierce. "This really completes our access of care and support."

Though the society's NWT services, including the peer support group, will be based in Yellowknife, it also maintains a toll-free help phone line that residents from all communities can access.

It's been more than a decade since an MS support group was functioning in the territory, and Smith said the society's presence here will especially benefit the newly-diagnosed.

"When you're first diagnosed, you're wondering, 'what's going on with my body?' There are so many questions," she said. "It's important to be able to talk to somebody who understands people with MS would understand."

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