MS Walk raises funds, awareness

LIHU‘E — No one could tell if the Lihue Baseball League Mariners were excited about being part of the MS Walk, or just showing off their new jackets.

But the baseball players were definitely at the head of the pack Saturday as they led off about a hundred walkers who took part in the annual MS Walk at the Kukui Grove Shopping Center.

Mariners’ coach Larry Ramboyon said, “This is the second year the players are doing the walk, and they’re definitely excited. A lot of them couldn’t sleep last night.

“Plus, they raised about $500 to help the cause.”

The Mariners, who were scheduled to play a game against the Rockies later that morning, were members of just one of several community groups who took part in the event coordinated by Kaua‘i County Councilman Mel Rapozo and his family.

“It’s not me,” Mel Rapozo said modestly. “It’s my wife Patsy, my mom Jessie Sam Fong, and my whole family. They did it all in about two weeks.”

Mel Rapozo’s brother Brian, who is one of The Garden Island carriers, has been suffering from multiple sclerosis for the past seven years.

“My mom is really amazing,” Brian Rapozo added. “She’s a cancer survivor, and she’s out here.”

Mel Rapozo said their mother, Jessie Sam Fong, has had two breasts and a kidney removed, and is still a strong part of the MS Walk coordination.

“She is definitely amazing,” Mel Rapozo said.

“He was diagnosed in 1999, but he has had symptoms since 1989,” Sam Fong said. “But the real hero is Darren Henderson, a sales associate for Berlex Laboratories, who came here on his own dime, and even brought his own coffee.”

Henderson is a representative for Betaseron, the medication that Brian Rapozo is on to help with his MS (multiple sclerosis) disease.

“I take it every other day,” Brian Rapozo said. “I hate it. But the medication slows down the MS process, and helps the symptoms.”

And, in the fashion of true family, Brian Rapozo joked with Mel Rapozo, “I just had a procedure done yesterday. You want to see the bandage?” to which Mel Rapozo responded, “Nah, you know I can’t stand that stuff,” as Brian Rapozo pulled up his shirt to show the bandage.

Henderson said that MS is not a widely known disease, and there is no known cure for MS at this time.

Simply speaking, MS is the deterioration of the nerve coverings, called myelin. This prevents the smooth transmission of information to the body from the brain, similar to a situation where insulation deteriorates from an electrical wire.

Henderson said the disease affects both men and women in their prime, usually in their 30s. And, when patients are diagnosed, they become very scared and frightened.

Little is known about how a person contracts MS, Henderson said. But, it is believed that most individuals pick up the virus during puberty.

Once the virus enters an individual, usually undetected, Henderson said it remains in a hibernation state until one day something in that individual’s immune system triggers it.

That causes the virus to attack the immune system, leading to deterioration of the myelin as well as lesions on the brain and brain stem.

Fear is one of the biggest challenges facing both MS patients and caregivers, and Brian Rapozo, who has the support of his family, wants to create a support group for MS patients and caregivers who live here.

Henderson is coordinating a visit by Dr. Leo Maher, a neurologist from The Queen’s Medical Center, on June 15 at Hanamaulu Restaurant and Tea House.

He invites anyone interested in learning more about MS to attend the discussion, which is open to the public and will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

This event is designed to help spread the awareness about MS, Henderson said. Brian Rapozo is hopeful that it will be the seed that starts an MS support group here.

For the Saturday event, Kaua‘i residents raised a total of $7,634, which Lisa Barnett of the MS Hawai‘i Division told walkers will stay in the state to help MS patients, families, and their caregivers.

Cindy Edralin, who makes trips to O‘ahu for her MS treatments, headed up Hui Me Kapilialoha, a group of 41 walkers that included police officers, judiciary workers, as well as close friends.

Edralin said Hui Me Kapilialoha translates to mean “bonding love,” appropriate for the group of black-shirted walkers who made their way along the site where tractors were doing site work for the Costco store.

Edralin said that one of the new groups at this year’s walk was the Kauai Technical Institute, headed by Kona Pananganan. This ju-jitsu group fielded about 15 walkers from their program that meets four days a week at the Lihue Industrial Park, Phase II.

Former Planning Commissioner and County Councilwoman Maxine Correa was the top fund-raiser, with $870 raised.

Correa was on hand with Edralin and some of the Hui Me Kapilialoha group to help man a food booth at the county’s age-group track meet that took place Saturday and Sunday at Vidinha Stadium, as part of their fund-raising efforts for MS.

Additionally, FM97 had nine of their staff members participating, as did the Kapa‘a High School Interact Club, under the supervision of Nellie Okamoto.

The Interact members, some of whom came from participating in the Hawaii High School Athletic Association tennis qualifying matches the day before, also helped as volunteers to help serve food, headlined by the kalua and cabbage offering from the culinary department of the Kauai Beach Hotel & Resort at Nukoli‘i.

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