How this Waterloo Region woman turned her multiple sclerosis diagnosis into a passion for fundraising

Tracey Ostermann walked with her husband and children to end MS.
  • Kyla Arsenault, Senior Director, Community Fundraising at the MS Society of Canada.

Tracey Ostermann was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2002 after she began experiencing numbness and tingling in her feet.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic autoimmune disease of the central nervous system. It affects the brain, spinal cord and optic nerve.

Luckily for her, it didn’t hamper her mobility. “It hasn’t affected me functionally. I could still play tennis,” the Waterloo resident said.

Ostermann, who had young children at the time, said she was stressed when she received her diagnosis.

“Just the uncertainty that accompanies the diagnosis of MS and because the severity of symptoms can vary widely,” said Ostermann, who is among the 90,000 Canadians who live with this disease.

His diagnosis quickly turned into a passion for fundraising for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada. Thus, she walks every year with her husband and children since 2002. She is one of the best fundraisers for the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Last year Ostermann raised just over $20,800 and at the time of writing she has raised around $16,300 this year.

Because MS is a disease that affects mobility and health, there was an increased risk of patients contracting COVID-19, leaving Ostermann stressed about contracting the virus.

Ostermann, who works as a social worker at St. Mary’s General Hospital, said when COVID-19 hit it was stressful for her because she had to be extra careful during the pandemic.

Kyla Arsenault, senior director, community fundraising, at the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, said at present there is no cure for the disease.

“So that’s absolutely the center of everything we do; it’s about finding a cure and offering support and help to people with MS,” said Arsenault. “Over $200 million has been spent on mass research. And more and more research is really open and finding more insights into the causes of our mass. But there is no cure yet. But we really hope so in the near future.”

Arsenault said the current health crisis requires helping people with MS.

“We have had to move to many remote support groups and remote help and pivot to support people in other ways than in-person groups. And so we were able to do that through a lot of different support systems.

As the provincial elections approach, the Multiple Sclerosis Society wants the provincial government to implement policies relating to income security, job security, care, housing and research.

The Waterloo District Chapter is one of largest equipment funds in Ontario, but Arsenault said some parts of Canada haven’t received as much funding as others, so they’ve moved to “a national model.”

the Grand River SP Boardwalk takes place on May 29 where people in the Waterloo region can gather at the Preston Memorial Auditorium for a 5 kilometer walk to raise awareness and funds for MS.

This year, the company has a goal of $4.5 million. Last year they raised $3.8 million, virtually.

Arsenault said the money will go to MS programs like the wellness program, quality of life equipment program, knowledge network, peer support program and research.

“The generosity of Canadians has been incredible thanks to COVID. And so people walked on their own without in-person events and people could still collect so much, so much. And so we’re really excited for that to grow even more,” Arsenault said.

This year, the goal for the Grand River group is $165,000 and $69,609 has been raised so far.

The walk has been happening virtually since the start of the pandemic, and Ostermann said she was excited to walk in person this year.

For more information, contact Kim Kay at [email protected] or call 888-822-8467.

STORY BEHIND THE STORY: May is MS Awareness Month, so journalist Seyitan Moritiwon wanted to talk to someone with multiple sclerosis about the impact the pandemic has had on them.

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