Local family fighting MS one order at a time

MINT HILL – For Suzanne Hinson, living with multiple sclerosis is a daily struggle.

That’s why she and her daughter, Nikki Smith, are joining forces with a local restaurant and the surrounding community for a fundraising effort aimed at helping others fighting the disease.

Hawthorne’s New York Pizza and Bar in Mint Hill will host a fundraiser on Monday, Dec. 9, from 5 to 9 p.m. to raise money to send Smith and her team, The Ruby Slippers, to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s annual MS Challenge Walk in Charleston, S.C., in February 2014. The restaurant, at 7319 Matthews-Mint Hill Road, will donate portions of food sales to The Ruby Slippers’ fundraising endeavors, which will support the National MS Society.

Hinson was diagnosed with MS in 2005 and says the road “certainly hasn’t been easy.” She was diagnosed with lupus a year before receiving her MS diagnosis, and living with the two diseases has caused some treatment problems.

“Some of the (lupus medication) will make MS worse; I’m still, after seven years, trying to find (the right) medication,” Hinson said.

That’s one of the reasons she and her daughter are passionate about supporting the National MS Society through the Challenge Walk. Much of the money raised, Hinson said, goes to research. Though treatments have advanced significantly over the last 10 to 12 years, there’s still much to be desired for many MS patients, she said.

“It used to be when you got diagnosed with MS, you were sent home to die, or end up in a wheelchair, which (actually) doesn’t happen to most people,” Hinson said. But, she added about her own experience with the disease, “It’s been difficult. I’ve had to retire … I’ve had some cognitive issues with (the disease). The physical part is difficult.”

Hinson added it’s also difficult for patients’ families, who have to adjust to their loved one not being able to do the things he or she used to do.

“If you have MS, it involves the whole family; everybody has to cope,” she said.

Smith started walking in the MS Challenge Walk five years ago to support her mom, forming a team with several fellow walkers called The Ruby Slippers – a name Hinson said was inspired by her daughter’s love for “The Wizard of Oz.” Each participant in the walk is required to raise $1,500 prior to the event, which is one reason the fundraiser at Hawthorne’s is so important for the team.

The walk is slated for Feb. 28 to March 3, 2014, when participants throughout the Southeast will travel to Charleston to walk 50 miles over the course of three days.

“It’s an incredibly, physically difficult thing to do; you get blisters on top of blisters,” Hinson said. “(But) it’s such an emotional, powerful event that all these people come back – they come back and (walk) again each year.”

She added though she can’t physically participate in the walk, she’ll be there in spirit – and may even walk the final mile.

Hinson said her faith and family have been the two biggest components that help her cope with the disease. She also enjoys educating the community about MS during fundraising events, teaching people about the disease and its warning signs, treatment options and support available through local MS organizations and chapters. And rather than hide her diagnosis, Hinson wants to share her story so others fighting the disease – including her own sister – feel less alone and more hopeful.

“It’s interesting how people who have MS sometimes don’t want people to know, and I’m like, ‘I don’t care.’ I would rather people know,” she said.

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