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Child advocates for people with MS


River Grove student raises thousands of dollars for the cause

A River Grove Elementary School third-grader has raised tens of thousands of dollars for Walk MS, devoting years of her young life to helping people with multiple sclerosis.

The April 13 walk in Portland marks the fifth year Claire Sarnowski has been a major figure in the event led by the Oregon Chapter of the National MS Society. The fundraiser supports local people with MS and research on the chronic disease that attacks the central nervous system and can affect mobility.by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Claire Sarnowksi poses for a photo during the Walk MS event in Portland last year.

So far, Claire has more than $2,000 toward her $3,500 goal this year, which would bring her total during the past few years to $15,000. She was No. 14 in terms of dollars raised out of 5,000 Walk MS participants in the state last year.

“I think it’s pretty amazing,” said her mother, Carol Sarnowski.

Sarnowski, diagnosed with MS 18 years ago, said she no longer holds her own fundraiser because everyone wants to donate to her adorable, knowledgeable daughter.

Claire teaches the public about the disease using advanced visual aids she has created herself: graphs, charts and a clay model of a brain. The model demonstrates how MS erodes the protective coating on the nerves and scars the brain. The 8-year-old says she plans to be an internal medicine doctor.

Claire sells Christmas cards and friendship bracelets she makes herself, and she held a Starbucks marketing event, inspiring a barista to donate gift cards for her donors. Claire said she loves supporting a good cause and teaching people about MS while knocking on doors and telephoning potential donors.

“I always try to help people no matter how hard or difficult it is,” Claire said.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Claires family gathered for Walk MS last year: back row, from left, is Ken Sarnowski, Emma Boden, Carol Sarnowski and Felicha Fields; in the front is Claire Sarnowski.When she was a baby, her parents rolled her along in her stroller during Walk MS. But, it wasn’t until she participated in a Walk MS fundraiser for a teacher’s assistant at her preschool that Claire became more involved. She realized MS touched many more people than her own family.

“What got me motivated is meeting a bunch of people with the disease and my mom for supporting me and knowing how it affects her,” she said. “And, I’ve seen her with her up moments and her down moments.”

About 400,000 people in the United States have MS, and it affects 2.1 million people in the world, according to the National MS Society. There are 7,800 people registered with the Oregon chapter as having MS, and Sarnowski said 250 of them participated in one of the many walks available throughout the state.

Sarnowski said some people with MS might think they cannot join in because they cannot walk or have trouble moving. She said they could cheer people on, volunteer in other ways or walk the best that they are able.

“I might walk it slower than everyone else, but I can still walk it,” she said.

She added that she lives a normal life; it’s just different than it was before her diagnosis.

“I can still do the mom thing,” Sarnowski said. “It doesn’t matter that I have MS.”

Her daughter spoke earlier this month at the Oregon chapter’s VIP Walk MS kickoff party at the state headquarters in Portland. She met special guests such as Jerome Kersey, who played for the Portland Trail Blazers. Kersey is a spokesman for the state chapter.by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - A former player for the Portland Trail Blazers, Jerome Kerseys $100 donation helped Claire Sarnowksi reach her fundraising goal of $3,000 last year during the Walk MS event in Portland.

Claire said some people have questioned how much attention she is getting for her participation.

“It’s not about the attention,” Claire said. “It’s about getting that support to boost you and motivate you to get more donations.”

MS is not contagious, nor is it directly inherited. It can be caused by viruses, bacteria and other microbes. Having a parent or sibling with the disease increases one’s chances of developing it.

MS affects everyone differently, sometimes leading to numbness, slurred speech, paralysis and blindness. Some people have moments when their symptoms ebb and then recur.

There are treatments available but no cure.

Claire was the event’s star walker last year, said Lisa Roth, president of the Oregon chapter of the National MS Society.

“She’s so committed to raising awareness and dollars and doing something about this disease, so her children’s generation don’t know it,” Roth said.

To help Claire raise funds, visit her webpage: main.nationalmssociety.org/site/TR/Walk/ORCWalkEvents?px=4693746&pg=personal&fr_id=19423.

To volunteer or help the Oregon Chapter of (the Salem event needs volunteers, according to Claire), visit walkorc.nationalmssociety.org.