Saturday, February 24, 2018

Loving the Water with MS

November 1, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

People affected by multiple sclerosis (MS) are drawn to the water since it’s there that they can move more freely than on land. Aquatic activities offer exercise possibilities in places such as Camp Hemlocks in Fairfield County, Connecticut, a year-round camp with special swim and boating programs for disabled persons. Wendy Shulman courtesy National MS Society

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that “eats away” at the protective sheath (myelin) that covers the nerves. Damage to myelin interferes with the communication between the brain, spinal cord and other areas of the body, which may result in partial or total loss of vision or double vision; body tingling, electric shock sensations or pain; tremors or lack of coordination; slurred speech; fatigue; dizziness; and heat sensitivity. MS currently has no cure; however, treatments may help manage symptoms and reduce progress of the disease.

The recently closed Camp Hemlocks in Connecticut devoted an entire week to those with MS. Campers kayaked, canoed, and swam with supervision and instruction from trained professionals.  Swimmers exercised and enjoyed themselves in the temperature-controlled environment of a heated indoor swimming pool equipped with a ramp and a lift for those who cannot use the stairs. The camp, which reportedly closed for financial reasons, held a six-day holiday each June hosted by the Connecticut and Greater New England chapters of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. “Multiple sclerosis vacation week is a rare and wonderful opportunity for those living with MS to experience fun-filled camp activities, not usually accessible because of some of the disabling effects of the disease,” said Lisa Gerrol, Connecticut Chapter president.Courtesy Oakhurst Camp 3

According to the national Multiple Sclerosis Society, there are many benefits to exercising in the water for those with MS. Water helps support weak limbs and promotes muscle relaxation, since moving in the water takes less effort to achieve a greater range of motion and provides opportunities to develop balance and coordination skills.

Camp Oakhurst, operated by the New York Service for the Handicapped, is open to children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities. Located along the New Jersey shore, Camp Oakhurst meets the aquatic therapeutic and recreational needs of summer campers. According to Charles Sutherland, camp director, programs have one-on-one care in the 82-degree pool, including support for those who are in wheel chairs. Swimming allows these campers to exercise and walk in water as they would not be able to do on land, notes Sutherland, who calls it “pure magic” to witness a camper get into the water for the first time.Courtesy Camp Oakhurst

For those with MS, attending a camp with aquatic activities is a wonderful opportunity. “When I was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2010, I immediately went home to research what MS was all about,” says camper Carol Slack. “Then I found the national MS Society and its MS Vacation Week. I signed up with my husband, Clarence, so we could meet people who understood the disease. I never knew that I would find a second family.”

Camper Brian Shebell, a retired paper mill machine operator, loved attending Camp Hemlocks in the company of friends. His favorite activities were boating and kayaking, as well as singing karaoke. He says that his performance of “Born to Be Wild” was an annual hit at camp.

Wendy Shulman, a retired public relations practitioner for a software company, relates that she had stopped swimming laps three times per week when she developed MS. She began to swim again at Camp Hemlocks — after 10 years — accompanied by two camp staffers. “It was wonderful to get back in the pool again,” she shares. Eric Sazfran, Rick Trapani, courtesy National MS Society

Camp Oakhurst serves individuals with MS, as well as those with conditions including autism spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, post-polio, osteogenesis imperfecta, and traumatic brain injury. For more information on Camp Oakurst:

By Jennifer Pollock

The author dedicates this story to her cousin Deb.



Barbara Orlanski courtesy National MS Society      Carol Slack and her husband courtesy National MS Society










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