I remember as a young child, learning that my mother, Karen, had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. It was hard to imagine; she was the strongest person I had ever known, and it never occurred to me that the disease would affect her in any major way. She was a leader, the most active and vocal mother in my grade, seeming always to put others before herself. Early on, the disease never seemed to hinder her daily life or attitude. This all changed at one defining moment, when a fourth grade classmate pointed out that my mom ‘walked funny’. I was angry at his insolence, but most all I wanted to understand why this was happening; MS was not spoken about in our household, especially with my brother and me. I went home that afternoon and requested to join her and my father for the next treatment appointment at The Cleveland Clinic’s Mellen Center. I posed question after question to the nurse, wanting answers, hope, and most of all a way to make her better.
As the years passed and her condition worsened, I felt driven not only to make sense of what MS was on a scientific level, but to help my friends and family – or, anyone who would listen – understand what it was. I strived to explain the disease and its effects through assignments like the eighth grade science fair, and my senior project in high school. These endeavors were the outlets that helped me cope with what was going on with my mom’s condition at that time.
While away from home during my first year at college, the progressive elements of the disease took over, and her condition declined more quickly than ever. Soon afterward, she suffered a stroke and lost all voluntary movement in her body, including the ability to communicate verbally and process normal food. The placement of a feeding tube gave the lasting impression of a grim prognosis. Our family vowed to do everything possible to maintain the vivacious spirit in her otherwise failing body.
That was almost thirteen years ago now, and she is still very much alive, vibrantly fighting MS with the same fortitude and sense of purpose as ever, though never alone; over these years, my mother has been fortunate to have my father and grandmother providing an amazing level of ongoing care. When a nurse or doctor did come to the house, I was horrified by stories of so many people with this disease overwrought without a support system. I began talking to the family members of several people struggling under these circumstances, and discovered that there are too few resources available to provide the additional help and support that is needed. It became clear to me that I could – should – do something to help the situation.
In the year 2001, I hosted a party for NFL Draft Day with my brother, Mike, and long-time friend, Dan Johnson, in my parents’ basement. With merely a small group of friends, we were able to make a donation to The National MS Society here in Ohio. We realized that this would be a great way to raise money for this cause, and have a good time in the process. Our little event quickly gained popularity in the community, and grew out of my parents’ house. This year, as we expand into our third venue, we are excited to be hosting our party downtown at Fat Fish Blue.
In 2007, The Karen Foundation for MS was created with the mission of providing care services and assistance to the people and their families in Northeast Ohio coping with the daily stresses that Multiple Sclerosis brings into the home. Today, The Karen Foundation – named for my mother – is recognized as the largest third-party contributor to the Ohio Buckeye Chapter of the NMMS, and in 2008 provided over 85% of the funds available in their Respite Care Grants. We are expanding quickly, adding two new events to our schedule in the last year, and looking forward to the next quarterly extravaganza. Ultimately, our goal is to spread our fundraisers across the country, and host a Draft Day Party in every NFL city to benefit those in each respective region.
None of this would be possible without your support. With your donations, efforts, and attendance at these fundraisers, we have truly created a grass-roots effort that is making a real difference in peoples’ lives. Thank you for helping me to fulfill a lifelong dream with the continued success of this foundation.
Joe Bradley, President and Co-Founder
The Karen Foundation for MS