Local multiple sclerosis sufferer looking to help others

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 23, 2013

LAPLACE – Sharonne Gauthier is a young woman who carries a heavy load, but not without grace — the 33-year-old was officially diagnosed with multiple sclerosis just three years ago but has not let the disease stop her from living her life.
“When I first got diagnosed, I was out of work for almost seven months because I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t talk, my vision was gone. I had to kind of start over, like a baby. It’s been a long journey back,” said Gauthier of her experience with the disease.
She credits her family with helping her get back on her feet again.
MS is a disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack a fatty substance that insulates the nerves, called myelin. Over time it causes scarring, called scleroses, and will eventually harden the nerve tissue of the spinal cord, brain and eyes. It has no known cause, but certain risk factors include climate, family history, exposure to the shingles virus and low levels of Vitamin D.
There are four varieties of the disease. Gauthier suffers from the least severe variety, relapse-remitting. With this type, the disease has clear flare-ups that are often followed by partial or complete recovery periods that can last for months or years. Most MS patients fall in this category. The other varieties are primary progressive, seconday progressive and progressive relapsing.
“Mentally, (the doctors) thought I would’ve been depressed. They put me on antidepressants, but I told them I didn’t need that. I think that any disease is a mind thing and that you can control your disease by being positive,” she said.
The young woman did suffer a period of depression after her diagnosis but said she rallied herself with the help of her family and boyfriend and decided she wanted to get her life back. Gauthier got the idea to start her foundation, the Sharonne L Gauthier MS Foundation, because she wanted to spread that positivity and also raise awareness for a disease she said she knew next to nothing about until she was diagnosed.
“I am in the medical field, and in school they briefly touched on it, but I didn’t know how common it was amongst people. I’ve been a therapist now for almost 12 years, and I’ve only taken care of a handful of MS patients. Taking care of them and actually going through it, it’s two diffeerent things,” she said, perceptively. “I never really got the chance to investigate or really care to learn fully about it. After my diagnosis, I decided i had to learn about it and my family had to learn about it because at any point I could just stop moving. It’s a devastating disease.”
She recently got the foundation up and running, but Gauthier eventually hopes to raise enough money with her foundation to provide financial assistance to select MS organizations and help patients pay for their medication — Gauthier said she pays more than $5,000 a month for her thrice-weekly medications and realizes that some patients may not be able to afford such expensive medication even with insurance. Most importantly, she said that she wants to help with research to eventually find a cure for the disease.
Gauthier said she had the idea to start the foundation shortly after her diagnosis but never really threw herself into it wholeheartedly until this year.
“When this year came I said ‘You know what, I’m doing it. I’m not letting this year pass without starting it.’ So when January came, I actively got into it and started doing things,” she said.
The Sharonne L. Gauthier MS Foundation will be hold its first annual brunch and social on Sunday, April 28, at the the Four Points Sheraton Hotel in Metairie from 2 until 4 p.m.
The cost is $40 per plate, and Gauthier said there will be several guest speakers as well as a jazz band and a surprise celebrity guest appearance. She is currently looking for sponsors for the event. A portion of the proceeds will go directly to the MS Society and Multiple Sclerosis Association of America.
Gauthier’s friends and family have provided much help to her so far with getting the ball rolling. She plans to hold at least two major events each year with the foundation. She is already planning a fashion show for late October, though she doesn’t have an exact date set yet.
Gauthier offered this piece of advice for those recently diagnosed with MS: “Stay positive and know that there is medication to treat it. It is a very difficult disease, but if you stay positive and eat healthy it can be well-managed.”
To purchase tickets or get more information, contact Tasha Washington at 985-233-0953.
Donations can also be made through the Louisiana Federal Credit Union by inquiring about the Sharonne L. Gauthier MS Foundation.