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Free clinic helps patients meet challenges of MS

UD grad student Robyn Lazarick (center) and Michelle Provost-Craig (left), associate professor of health and exercise sciences at UD, test the heart rate and oxygen consumption of Bobbi Budin of Glasgow, who has been diagnosed with MS.
Photo by Duane Perry
12 p.m., Feb. 3, 2004--About 1,250 Delawareans have multiple sclerosis, but Delaware had no comprehensive, multidisciplinary MS clinic until Ken Seaman, instructor and coordinator of physical therapy clinical education, created one on the UD campus in 2002.

About one in 636 Delawareans have heard the words, “You have MS” from a neurologist, and most resume their normal lives with unpredictable futures. “They just wait for the next shoe to drop,” Seaman said, because MS typically is a chronic, progressive disease that destroys the fatty tissue called myelin that protects nerve fibers in the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. Symptoms range from mild numbness and low energy to paralysis and loss of vision.

Bobbi Budin of Glasgow was diagnosed with MS nine and a half years ago. Other than occasional visits to a neurologist, she hadn’t seen anyone about it, which is common among individuals living with MS.

“I feel very, very healthy and very normal, but, when I heard about this, I thought I’d like to be evaluated to know just where I am,’’ Budin said.

Seaman, director of the MS assessment clinic in the physical therapy department, where graduate students study for doctorates in physical therapy, is one person who made a difference.

Seaman said he often received calls from persons with MS who wondered if their functional abilities came with an expiration date. They wanted to know how and when the disease would affect their gait, their vision, their memory, their speech and their balance.

“They asked how the disease would affect their ability to just make it through the day and where they could go for answers,” Seaman said.

Seaman, who had spent more than 15 years on the medical staff at the Jimmie Heuga Center, an MS assessment clinic in Colorado, said he decided to teach future physical therapists in his own program at UD the often-complicated aspects of MS.

Participants at the free clinic meet with a full complement of professional volunteers and with grad students who receive a small stipend from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Professionals use everything from a kid’s puzzle to assess hand-eye coordination to a $25,000 handheld metabolic oxygen consumption counter to gauge how much energy participants expend.

Occupational therapists test coordination and make recommendations about ways to conserve energy. An optometrist checks vision. Physical therapy students check gait and balance. Family counselors are on hand. An expert explains how to buy medical equipment.

Dana Jenson, a second-semester graduate student who wakes early in the mornings to work with a freshman who has cerebral palsy, said she works at the clinic because she thinks the grad students have something to give. “Giving education to a patient is so cool. We’ve had a lot of patients who come in here, and they were diagnosed 10 years ago, and they’ve never had therapy or done anything about it,’’ Jenson said.

Ken Seaman, coordinator of physical therapy clinical education
Photo by Kathy Atkinson
Becky O’Neill, another grad student who works with the freshman student in her off hours, said the clinic taught her the importance of professionalism. “I learned to make a good first impression and be very professional so you establish good rapport with the patient, because you have a lot of things you want to do and you have to ask some personal questions, and establishing rapport makes that so much easier,’’ she said.

“Neurology is fascinating because you can have two people with rotator cuff problems and you see pretty much the same thing. But, with the central nervous system, we have four patients here today who all have MS but none of them will have the same symptoms,’’ O’Neill said. “They might have one or two in common.”

The clinic pays dividends for the participants, too.

One participant’s husband said he’d been after his wife to exercise to strengthen her leg muscle, but the grad students did a gait analysis that showed the problem was her balance.

For Bobbi Budin the news was all good. Her gait was good, her lungs were strong and she was doing great. She said she felt reassured.

Seaman said participants often can be steered toward a quick fix—support bars that will help them conserve energy in the bathtub, exercise to lift a drooping foot, a walker to replace a cane that’s no longer enough, a new wheelchair to replace one that wasn’t fitted properly.

“One of the most gratifying cases was a fellow who came in with a walking stick,’’ Seaman said. “He said he really only wanted one thing. He said, ‘My child always says, “Daddy, take me to the mall.”’ We had the wheelchair people fit him for a wheelchair, and he put his kid on his lap, and they went to the mall.’’

The free MS clinic operates about four times a semester. Anyone who has been diagnosed with MS more than two years ago may participate. Call Seaman at 831-2430 to reserve a spot.

MS most often occurs in persons between 20 and 50, but individuals as young as 15 recently have been diagnosed. Twice as many women as men get MS. Symptoms vary, but they include vision problems, slurred speech, memory problems, tingling sensations and numbness, weakness in the arms and legs, loss of balance or muscle control, and bladder and bowel difficulties. For more information visit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society web site at [http://www.nmss.org/].

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