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‘Changes I’ve seen have been amazing’: Island’s MS Walk continues to inspire

In her almost 30 years of living with MS, Gabrielle Veto has seen significant changes in research but much more is needed
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Gabrielle Veto (far right), pictured on an MS Walk, has attended every walk except one since her diagnosis. (Of Earth and Soul Photography)

Since Gabrielle Veto was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1996 at age 27, she has attended every single MS Walk, except for one.

MS changed her career path and life significantly. At the time of diagnosis, she was a young, newlywed TV reporter in Vancouver when she started experiencing severe abdominal pain.

“We ended up in the hospital five times in a week because I was in agony and nobody could figure out what the heck was going on,” said Veto. “In the midst of taking these tests, thankfully the pain had abated. But one day in the shower, I couldn’t feel the temperature of the water on one half of my body.”

Then a few days later, her right leg stopped working.

“It felt very, very heavy, but felt like it was a wooden block.”

After a couple of weeks, she got in to see a neurologist and after the MRI, the diagnosis of Relapsing/Remitting MS was confirmed.

“I had no MS in my family. I had barely heard of the disease,” Veto said.

The first thing she did on the Monday morning after her diagnosis was visit MS Canada to chat with a staff member for almost three hours.

“She was absolutely fantastic in listening to all my questions and providing me with what information she could about what MS is and what I could and could not expect, both from the medical system and from life and how to cope. Because when you’re faced with a chronic illness, it covers all aspects of your life.”

The annual MS Walk in Victoria, the only official in-person gathering on Vancouver Island, is MS Canada’s premier event, which helps the around 90,000 Canadians with the disease.

“Most importantly for the MS community, it gives a sense of connection. MS can be very overwhelming and very lonely because it’s a very complex disease,” Veto said. “The other opportunity it’s afforded me is the opportunity to volunteer. It’s an amazing opportunity to have there that you think is gone because it feels like all your opportunities get taken away when you have a chronic illness.”

She also added the MS Walk helps people see the community is working towards common goals, like raising awareness and fundraising for research and services.

MS is an unpredictable central nervous system disease that attacks myelin, the protective coating on nerves. This can cause symptoms such as extreme fatigue, lack of coordination, impaired sensation, vision and bladder problems, cognitive impairment and mood changes.

There is no cure and the cause is still unknown, but Veto said in her almost 30 years of living with it, “The changes I’ve seen have been amazing in research,” she said.

At the time of her diagnosis, there were only four treatments approved for use in Canada and they were all self-injections.

“I was thinking, ‘They haven’t been used on humans long enough.’ I was scared of side effects,” said Veto.“Then in the year 2000, I had my most debilitating relapse. I developed something called useless hand syndrome. And it is just like it sounds. It was really scary. So I said ‘O.K., fine I’ll do it,’ I’ve been on the same drug ever since.”

Today, there are 19 options of disease-modifying therapies to choose from, including pills rather than self-injections.

“A huge, huge increase in choice and that is due to MS research,” said Veto, who now resides in Parksville. “The walk has been the biggest fundraising event that MS Canada has put on. And that money is crucial. And because we have such a high incidence of the disease, we have some of the best researchers in the world.”

According to MS Canada’s 2022 impact report, $5,902,795 was invested in research through the organization.

The Victoria MS Walk is on Sunday, May 26 at Cadboro-Gyro Park in Saanich. The check-in is 9 a.m. followed by opening ceremonies at 10. The route is either 1.5 km or 3.5 km.

For those with MS who cannot participate, there is the option to walk at home or gather with friends and family.

MS Walk Victoria hopes to raise $52,000 this year and is taking donations online at msspwalk.donordrive.com.

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