In 2005, Courtney Buis was attending college five hours away from her family’s home in Syracuse, N.Y., when she got a distressing call from her dad: Her mom, Elaine, had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
“It was really hard, because my mom and I are like best friends. We are really close,” says Buis.
MS is an autoimmune disease in which the central nervous system – the brain and the spinal cord – are attacked by the immune system. Sufferers of MS can experience a range of symptoms, including muscle weakness, decreased coordination, vision problems or cognitive troubles.
Buis, who now is a cryptologic technician in the Navy stationed at Pearl Harbor, recently raised money for sufferers of MS with the Swim for MS fundraiser challenge. The challenge is an event of the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (MSAA), which aims to improve the lives of those impacted by MS through education, counseling and other services.
“I didn’t know what MS was before my mom got it. I did a lot of research, and MSAA was a great place for me to go and learn about it,” Buis says.
Buis first participated in the challenge in 2011. This year, Buis rounded up a group of 14 swimmers to participate as Team Shockwave. Most of the group was based here, with others from Colorado and New York.
Together, they swam 2,060 laps in 20 days during May, raising a total of $2,350 for MSAA through donations.
“The money goes straight to the individuals, which is the great thing about the event,” she says. “(MSAA) has a lot of different opportunities for people with MS.
“Anything they need, really, MSAA is there for them.”
After Elaine was diagnosed, her life changed dramatically. Only in her early 40s at the time, Elaine had to retire from her job as a day-care provider and scale back from other activities, including playing softball with Buis. Elaine is able to volunteer with adults who have mental disabilities, but each day brings new challenges – one day she may be fine, while the next she is struggling.
“She was so active, and slowly she can’t do the thing she used to anymore,” Buis says. “I think that is the hardest part for her … that she was so active in everyday life. Having to slow down was really hard for her.”
The challenge was especially important for Buis because, despite her mother’s limitations, Elaine can still swim. In 2011 and again this year, Elaine visited the Islands to swim with her daughter in the challenge.
Buis also hopes her work helps others become more aware of MS. “The money is just a bonus,” she says.
For more information on MSAA, visit mymsaa.org.