Building hope for MS patients

Building hope for MS patients

Local nonprofit works with those with multiple sclerosis to live more complete, healthier lives

By Brett Auten

Multiple sclerosis (also known as MS) is the most common autoimmune disorder affecting the central nervous system. In 2015, about 2.3 million people were affected globally. It is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body.

MS Bright Spots of Hope, a St. Louis-area nonprofit organization established in 2016 by Michelle Keating, has a goal is to educate, empower, spark creativity and enhance wellness for the MS community and beyond through engaging programs featuring experts and positive MS role models.

St. Peters resident Adam Willis is one of those role models.

Willis has embraced the Bright Spots of Hope vision to enlighten communities and to inspire those with MS and who have MS connections to embrace life fully. In conjunction with Bright Spots of Hope and held at his Fit2Function studio, located at 1405 Jungerman Rd., Suite A, in St. Peters, Willis began offering personalized training in April. 

“We won’t let MS define them,” he said. “We are here to motivate them to give it a shot.”

Keating, who was diagnosed in 1981 and now living with relapsing-remitting MS over 35 years, has personal experience in this avenue as she is a client of Willis’ as well. 

“(Exercise) is helpful toward all great things, body, mind, and soul,” she said. “MS offers many challenges with various symptoms and for everyone, it is important to stay active and remember that there is always hope when living with MS.”

Along with his regular, day-to-day clients, Willis offers a special MS-specific program called Many Steps to Fitness Friends open to anyone diagnosed with MS along with their caregiver.

The one-hour long session has a focus on many aspects of overall, functional physical development, including balance exercise, strength training and flexibility. 

With nearly a decade of experience in personal training and corrective exercise, Willis, 33, has an extended training background and says there is nothing more rewarding than being a part of someone’s personal journey and helps them reach their individual goals.

In addition to being essential to general health and well-being, exercise is helpful in managing many MS symptoms.

A 1996 study published by researchers at the University of Utah was the first to demonstrate the benefits of exercise for people with MS. Those patients who participated in an aerobic exercise program benefited from many things, including better cardiovascular fitness, improved strength, better bladder and bowel function, less fatigue and depression and increased participation in social activities.

Willis knows this all too well as his mother was diagnosed with MS when he was just a child.

“She was diagnosed young and I watched her go through all of the stages and continue to battle it today,” he said. “To me, this was one of the best ways I can help a large number of people out there.” 

Inactivity in people with – or without – MS can result in numerous risk factors associated with coronary heart disease, weakness of muscles, decreased bone density with an increased risk of fracture, and shallow, inefficient breathing.

“From social interaction to networking there are many other benefits to the program,” Keating said. “You are motivated to learn not only from the instructor but from the other participants as well.”

The cause of MS is still unknown – scientists believe the disease is triggered by an as-yet-unidentified environmental factor in a person who is genetically predisposed to respond.

The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease.

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MS-Cover1 CUTLINE: Ray Rockwell Photo MS Bright Spots of Hope founder Michelle Keating (left) stands with trainer Adam Willis who offers a special MS-specific program called Many Steps to Fitness Friends open to anyone diagnosed with MS along with their caregiver.

MS-Cover2 CUTLINE: Submitted photo Trainer Adam Willis teaches Many Steps to Fitness Friends, a fitness program open to anyone diagnosed with MS along with their caregiver.