The View Through My Camera: 2018 Illinois Walk-Run-N-Roll for the TMA

By Bruce Mondschain
BLM Fineart Portraits

I believe that pictures tell the story of our lives: the moments of elation and those of despondence, those of great achievement and those that set us back. The moments we wish to keep forever because they show the feelings that cannot be uttered by our mouths. They capture the times that we wish to remember forever, some punctuated with salty tears, others with smiles of recollection, of times less complicated. Photographs capture the moments that remind us that we seldom walk the narrow bridge of life alone. Most often we cross that bridge with those we love and who love us. Photos are proof of that journey.  So, four years ago, when my dear friend and former colleague, Nancy Hanna Dove, asked if I would be interested in photographing the Illinois TMA Walk-Run-N-Roll, my reply was an enthusiastic, “For Sure!”

Having now been privileged to photograph four such events, I believe in the power of photographs with even greater conviction. You have taught me so much. And, for those insights, I will be forever grateful and in awe of the strength, promise and compassion that I have witnessed.

The TMA Walk-Run-N-Roll taught me that TM and related neuro-immune disorders do not discriminate. The participants in the event represent a blend of all ages, ethnicities, races, forms of mobility, levels of affluence and life situations. The event creates an arena for veterans of TM, as well as those who were only recently diagnosed. It is a place where a common language is spoken. It is the language of neuro-immune diseases accompanied by the language of hope.

Looking through my camera, I was overwhelmed by the welcomes I witnessed. Welcomes   that were instantly visible in the hugs, words of enthusiasm, tears of shared loss and the overwhelming feeling of comfort that accompanies being with others whose hopes, dreams and fears mirror your own. There is no room for pretense or haughtiness. Life is far too short and precious for those. The camera tells the truth!

I saw a sense of hope that was, for me, overwhelming. It showed in the eyes that searched other eyes in conversation. It showed in the words of a 16-year-old athlete who now speaks of her dreams of athletic achievement from her wheelchair. Her service dog sat quietly and attentively next to her. It showed in the memorials for those who joined us in prior years but who lost their noble battles with this mysterious disease. It showed in the mother who talked about the loss of her precious daughter and the prayer of comfort they said together each day. I saw it in the wife sharing her story of her husband’s fight to the end. Her pain and anguish were raw. Her story was a true love story. My camera recorded it in the brother who talked about the fact that he thinks of his departed sister each day. About her smile, her stamina, the lifelong gifts she gave to her family members. Who says big boys don’t cry?

The event is a day when it is okay to be vulnerable. I watched through my lens as a mother spoke about the pain of her daughter losing her battle. She told her story punctuated with gasps for breath, with tears streaming down her face, with a sense of profound appreciation for what family and friends have done to help her deal with her unthinkable loss. At a point when it seemed she could no longer finish her remarks, a strong young man who had been watching her intently made his way to the stage to put his arms around the woman speaking, his mother. He held her and reminded me once more that we needn’t walk the narrow bridge alone.

But, all that said, my tear-filled eyes saw something I never would have anticipated. Unbridled hope! That is what this incredible event is about. Hope. That we can be with others like ourselves. That we can be authentic in our pain and elation. That the TMA is making a difference every day in educating doctors, improving diagnostic accuracy and sharing new treatment and clinical study findings. That we know more today than we did yesterday and that tomorrow, we will know even more. That the TM community will stand together in victories and in moments of loss. I cannot think of a moment at any of the TMA events I have photographed that was not about hope. It was there in the enthusiasm at the beginning of the Walk-Run-N-Roll where youthful patients held the event banner, and in the sense of accomplishment as people crossed the finish line and posed for a photo. Hope was there as I took photos of people reading the biographies that were strung around the pavilion. Biographies of TM patients. Epic stories of bravery, commitment and accomplishment. And hope was present in the multitude of excited requests from people wanting their picture taken with their “TMA friends and family”.

And, hope was there as people gathered together to take a group photograph of all those at the event. Before I took that final picture of the day, I stood atop the ladder, looking out at the hundreds of mothers, fathers, husband and wives, sisters, brothers, children, grandparents, friends and neighbors. The love, camaraderie and feelings of hope and spirt were overwhelming. I struggled to steady and focus my quivering camera, took the picture and said a silent prayer.

From the deepest part of my heart, I thank you for letting me be a part of the journey across that narrow bridge. Here is to next year.

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The 2018 Central Ohio Walk-Run-N-Roll

This past Sunday, September 23rd, the TMA held a Walk-Run-N-Roll in Dublin, OH. The air was crisp, and the sun shone over Coffman Park as families and friends arrived for the event. Due to the generous work of volunteers, participants were greeted with sandwiches, coffee, and homemade cupcakes! Kids were treated to face-painting by a talented artist. Each participant received a Walk-Run-N-Roll t-shirt to commemorate the event.

As the last of the attendees arrived, everyone gathered in the pavilion to listen to Sandy Siegel speak. As the president of the TMA, Sandy spoke about his motivation for founding this organization: his wife, Pauline, who was diagnosed with transverse myelitis. Sandy and Pauline worked tirelessly for over 20 years to build the organization to what it is today. Sandy explained that even after a year since Pauline’s passing, he continues to dedicate his time and energy to the efforts of the TMA. He does this because he cares about the TMA community and is hopeful that research will improve the future for those with rare neuro-immune disorders.

After Sandy’s inspiring speech, the entire group gathered to take a photo. We all squeezed in tight so that all 70+ participants could be seen. Then, it was time to walk, run, and roll around the park! All the children were encouraged to lead the pack in the ceremonial trek, and they did so with bright, smiling faces. Their family members and friends followed in a harmonious movement that signified the strength of our community when we come together. Once finished, the attendees were encouraged to mingle with one another and share their stories. By meeting with one another, we spread understanding and support for everyone who has been diagnosed with a rare neuro-immune disorder.

We are thankful for all participants who came to show their support and to help us raise over $16,000 for research and education of rare neuro-immune disorders. We are grateful that families came from all over Ohio to join in this event. There is something special about having our community come together and meet others with their same diagnosis, many of whom have never met anyone else with their same disorder. We had a wonderful time at this Walk-Run-N-Roll and can’t wait for next year!

If you are interested in starting a Walk-Run-N-Roll or other fundraising event in your city, please contact the Community Partnerships Manager, Jeremy Bennett, at jbennett@myelitis.org.

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Transverse Myelitis Network Gathering at Spinal Life Australia

By Jeanette Kretschmann

Spinal Life Australia

Dr. Cynthia Wang was our guest speaker at our annual event and joined us via video link from Dallas, Texas to present an update to our Transverse Myelitis Network members across Australia and New Zealand.

Dr. Wang is currently a James T. Lubin fellow under the mentorship of Dr. Benjamin Greenberg at the University of Texas Southwestern and Children’s Health.

Dr. Wang spoke on:

1. Learning about the disease – What do we now know? An overview of Transverse Myelitis, CAPTURE study, Acute Flaccid Myelitis, MOG antibody syndrome.

2. Finding treatments for the disease – What can we now do? NMOSD drugs, Remyelinating drugs, Remyelinating stem cells.

3. The Transverse Myelitis Association: Eclipse Fund, Family Camp.

Sixteen members and partners attended in-person at our Brisbane office along with five members joining us via their home computers. Dr. Wang explained the nervous system could be quite complicated and gave us an analogy about the spine being a highway connecting the brain to the muscles that control the body and the nerves that produce sensations.

A question and answer session brought some interesting questions from both the in-person audience and the online participants.

We thank Dr. Wang for graciously giving up her Sunday evening to talk to us. Special thanks also go to Jim Lubin whose expertise with linking us all together is fantastic, along with many thanks to The TMA for making this all possible. We received wonderful feedback from people around Australia and New Zealand who shared the day with us. For anyone interested in Dr. Wang’s recording of the day, it can be found here: https://tma.ong/2JztLGG

Lunch and networking were enjoyed by all. Three new members joined us for the first time and were welcomed by long-standing members who attend every year.

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A Day of Awareness: The 2018 Northeast Ohio Walk-Run-N-Roll

The morning of April 29th, 2018 was sunny and clear, but a strong wind was wreaking havoc on the picnic area in Canton, OH where the TMA’s Walk-Run-N-Roll was to take place that afternoon. As paper plates and brochures flew off the tables, the TMA’s Community Partnerships Manager Jeremy Bennett hopped in his car to purchase tape and thumbtacks to hold down loose materials. Despite this chaotic start, many enthusiastic volunteers stepped in to help, and the event began without a hitch.

As participants arrived at the venue, they were greeted with the smell of delicious Greek food provided by Papa Gyros Greek Grill and pizza provided by Antony’s Pizza. Each attendee was offered a t-shirt and was able to peruse prize baskets to bid upon. As more adults and families arrived, the atmosphere was charged with energy and purpose; everyone was united in the mission to bring awareness to rare neuro-immune disorders and to raise funds to support the goals of the TMA.

Before it was time to walk, run, and roll around the park, Jeremy gave an enlightening speech on the research, education, and support provided by the TMA to those in our community. He gave praise to Heidi Bournelis, the organizer of the Walk, and her helpers, who were instrumental in the planning and success of the event. Heidi’s daughter, Alexis, was diagnosed with Acute Flaccid Myelitis when she was three years old, so this cause is close to her family’s heart. After Jeremy finished his speech, Alexis’s grandfather also spoke on the importance of raising awareness and funds in support of research and finding a cure for rare neuro-immune disorders.

Finally, it was time for everyone to line up and take off down the path outlined for the Walk-Run-N-Roll. A steady stream of over 100 participants wound its way around the park as talking and laughter filled the air. Although the atmosphere was light, serious conversations were also held. As I walked around the park, I spoke to Heidi about her family’s initial struggle to get a diagnosis for Alexis. Her doctors had first failed to diagnose her and suggested that her symptoms may be psychosomatic, i.e. she was faking her symptoms. However, after many tests and a month of waiting, Alexis was finally diagnosed. Her story served as a reminder that the TMA’s work to spread awareness is far from over.

As the Walk-Run-N-Roll came to a close, families and friends said goodbye to one another as volunteers cleaned up the picnic area. I was happy to see many new friendships form over the course of the event. I hope that all the participants walked away with a better knowledge of rare neuro-immune disorders and the impact they can make by supporting research and education efforts.

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Announcing the 2018 Regional Rare Neuro-Immune Disorders Symposium

The Transverse Myelitis Association, in partnership with Boston Children’s Hospital Center for Pain and The Brain, is excited to host the 2018 Regional Rare Neuro-Immune Disorders Symposium (RNDS) in Boston, MA this October! The RNDS is an education and advocacy conference for families, caregivers and individuals diagnosed with Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM), MOG Antibody-Associated Disease, Neuromyelitis Optica Spectrum Disorder (NMOSD), Optic Neuritis (ON), and Transverse Myelitis (including the subtype Acute Flaccid Myelitis).

The objectives of this event are:

  1. Gather an understanding of the knowledge to date on the biology and causes of rare neuro-immune disorders and how they relate to each other;
  2. Learn about the latest medical and surgical strategies to manage the symptoms associated with these chronic rare neuro-immune disorders.

This conference is a great opportunity for individuals diagnosed with a rare neuro-immune disorder and their families to learn about these disorders and how to better advocate for themselves. Medical experts will be available to answer questions and provide the most up-to-date information regarding these disorders. We also encourage any medical professionals wanting a better understanding of rare neuro-immune disorders to attend.

The 2018 Regional RNDS is a one-day event, which will take place on Saturday, October 27th, 2018 at The Joseph B. Martin Conference Center at Boston Children’s Hospital. For more information, and to register for the event, please visit https://myelitis.org/event/2018-rnds/.

About The Center for Pain and the Brain

The Center for Pain and the Brain is a multidisciplinary team comprised of leading neurologists, physician-scientists, psychologists, physicists and neurobiologists. Founded and directed by David Borsook MD PhD, the Center spans Harvard Medical School, Boston Children’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital and McLean Hospital. Their research focuses on the discovery of novel pain pathways, developing novel high-throughput methods for evaluating analgesics, and incorporating results from animal research into human applications. They are one of the few Centers that evaluates both pediatric and adult patient groups. Conducting neuroimaging studies in both acute and chronic pain cohorts as well as experimental pain in healthy volunteers, these researchers seek to transform and improve the field of pain medicine.

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Arizona’s TMA Community Gets Inspired

By Kate Krietor

March 24th was a first for the Arizona TMA community. We gathered in Phoenix with our families and friends to show support for the TMA by sharing our stories and flexing our fundraising muscles. The energy and support generated by the 110 participants was gratifying to the volunteer organizers and set the stage for an ongoing Arizona TMA community.

We walked and rolled, we ate and we played, but most importantly, we gained strength by sharing our stories.


The youngest was a bouncy 3-year-old who got TM when she was just one. Maggie walked at 10 ½ months and had to relearn rolling over and crawling. Her Mom wrote, “Her fight and determination and strength were an inspiration to others, even from someone as young as Maggie.”  Our photographer tried hard to get shy Maggie to smile and it took balloons, wagons, and that blue sea of walkers to get her racing and laughing with her small friends. Her story was shared via a story sheet with her beaming smile.

Brittani, a high school senior and varsity athlete who juggles school, clubs and a job like many teens, was our keynote speaker. Brittani got TM at 11. She got out of bed one day and landed on the floor unable to walk.  Her comments were amazing. Doctors told her she wouldn’t play soccer again, but she was determined, and a year later was back on the field. She was captain of her Varsity team last year. “I’m resilient,” she said. “My Mom reminds me TM takes you two steps forward and one step back.”

Jason, a local TV reporter, knows how to tell a story. Imagine being on your honeymoon in Hawaii, sitting by a pool and slowly realizing you are becoming paralyzed. His wife came to the walk wearing a T-shirt that said, “TM ruined our honeymoon but not our lives.” Jason was able to share a bit of his (and our) story on his stations, Channels 3 and 5.

There were other stories too. Jordan came with his 22 supporters all wearing Team Jordan 24 shirts! His Mom shared his story of playing high school sports when TM upended his life. Jordan is adapting to a wheelchair after having overcome being on a ventilator. He is a fighter.

And then there is our story, the story of five ‘newbie’ event planners. The idea of putting on a walk was born on Oct 22, 2017 at the end of the TMA’s Rare Neuro Immune Disorders Symposium. We were, for the most part, just meeting each other for the first time and inspired to take hope back to Arizona – to create a community, tell our stories and raise awareness!  We inspired each other to organize the walk (in just 9 weeks!) and exceed our goals for community building, participation, funds raised and just plain old fun!

Arizona is a big, diverse state. The event was a coming-together facilitated by dedicated volunteers….thank you Gail, Kate, Julie, Barb and Deb, and to the strong support of the TMA staff for their willingness to “seed” the event and for their critical technical support. As a community we are resilient, we defy the odds and we make things happen. See you all next year in Tucson!

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Author Night with Margaret Peterson Haddix

Books have the ability to transport readers to a new world, and that’s how participants felt at the TMA’s Author Night with Margaret Peterson Haddix on March 28th. The event was held in Columbus, OH and benefited the TMA’s Pauline H. Siegel Eclipse Fund for Research. Pauline, one of the TMA’s founding members, was a teacher in the Worthington School District for 25 years. She was an advocate for learning and loved Margaret Peterson Haddix’s books for children and teens. As attendees gathered to listen to the author speak, Pauline’s joyful spirit was in our hearts.

The night started with a meet and greet with the author, and refreshments were provided by members of the book club to which Pauline belonged. Attendees munched on cheese and crackers, grapes, and chocolate buckeyes while mingling with the author and other guests. While some of the attendees were members of the TMA, many attendees had come solely because of their love of Margaret Peterson Haddix’s books. We were happy to spread awareness and explain our mission to those who had not known of the TMA prior to the event. Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) was also in attendance with two very special guests: golden retriever puppies in training to become service animals. Pauline’s service dog, Kazu, was her constant companion who she loved, and CCI’s attendance was a beautiful tribute to Kazu and Pauline’s bond.


When it was time for Ms. Haddix’s presentation, everyone piled into the auditorium and seated themselves in anticipation. Ms. Haddix shared photos from her recent trip to Spain as part of her research for an upcoming book. She also told a fun story about her daughter and a search for the perfect swimsuit when she was a child. But the highlight was the Q&A when several of the young people in the audience got to ask Ms. Haddix about her favorite books and characters. Pauline’s granddaughter even asked Ms. Haddix who her favorite Star Wars character was. The answer was Princess Leia, of course!

As the night came to a close, guests were afforded a last chance to speak with the author and get their books signed. Smiles and conversation were exchanged in the joyful atmosphere created by Ms. Haddix’s insightful presentation. The members of Pauline’s book club organized a successful event that served as a fitting tribute to Pauline’s memory, and the TMA is extremely grateful for their work in putting this event together.

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Observations from Rare Disease Day

By Jeremy Bennett, Community Partnerships Manager

Rare Disease Day was on February 28th, but many states hold advocacy events throughout February, March, and April. I was invited by our Georgia Support Group Leader, Kim Harrison, to attend the Rare Disease Day event on February 15th at the State Capitol in Atlanta. What follows is an account of my experience.

Kim and her husband, Brian, picked me up from my hotel in the morning and we made the drive to the Capitol. We were fortunate to find parking nearby, but I soon learned that ‘nearby’ is a relative term, as we had to walk around to the back of the building to access the only wheelchair accessible entrance. Watching Kim navigate steep sidewalks, narrow doorways, and small elevators was a constant reminder of the need for better accessibility.

We made it to the designated area and began to set up our table for the event where I was introduced to two representatives for the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD), Kristen Angell, Associate Director of Advocacy, and Beth Nguyen, RN, Georgia Rare Action Network Ambassador. NORD promotes Rare Disease Day and these advocacy events. I would recommend visiting rareaction.org to learn more about these events and view the schedule of upcoming Rare Disease Day events in places like New Jersey, Nebraska, Alabama, Texas, and many others.

I was also introduced to our Georgia Support Group members. My favorite part of my job is getting to meet the people in our community. I went five years before meeting another person with transverse myelitis, but during Rare Disease Day I met Shawn who was diagnosed in the 1980s and just attended his first support group at the beginning of February! It’s never too late to get involved, and the power of being in the same room as people who have also lived with a rare disease was on display throughout the day.

Dr. Erik Fisher gave an impassioned speech, and the people in attendance filled the halls of the Capitol with their voices, demanding to be heard by the politicians on their way to meetings. One such person, Representative Sharon Teague, spoke about her work with under-served communities. She said she’s always had someone on her staff that was either deaf, blind, or had some sort of disability. She was invited by her intern, Rasheera Dopson, who is a motivational speaker with a rare craniofacial condition. If only more representatives followed Teague’s lead, the rare community might not have to yell as loud as Dr. Fisher urged.

Later, Kim was asked to speak and generously gave her spot to me, so I talked about the work the TMA does. But the last words of the day were possibly the most powerful. They came from Beth’s young daughter who talked about how her mom is a hero. I agree. After listening to the stories from those in attendance, I can say there were many heroes there that day.

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The TMA at the Ohio State University MS Education Day

The Transverse Myelitis Association was invited to attend the Scarlet and Gray Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Patient Education Day in Columbus, Ohio on December 2, 2017. This event was hosted by The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, and provided an opportunity for patients to learn about management of symptoms and the latest research from the experts at Ohio State.

The TMA had a table at the event, and provided information and resources to attendees. While the TMA’s advocacy mainly focuses on ADEM, AFM, NMOSD, ON, and TM, we also have an abundance of resources for those diagnosed with MS since the disorders are closely related. MS is a chronic inflammatory demyelinating disease of the central nervous system, and sometimes people with MS are mistakenly diagnosed with TM. By partnering with The Ohio State University to spread awareness and advocate for these diseases, the TMA is pursuing our mission to support and advocate for individuals and their families diagnosed with rare neuro-immune disorders of the central nervous system; to promote awareness and to empower individuals with rare neuro-immune diagnoses, families, clinicians, and scientists through education programs and publications; and to advance the scientific understanding of and therapy development for these rare disorders by supporting the training of clinician-scientists dedicated to these rare diseases and by supporting basic clinical research.

One of our goals in attending education events such as the Scarlet and Gray MS Education Day is to strengthen our relationship with medical centers and medical professionals. Through these efforts, we hope to further collaborate with The Ohio State University to develop educational programs, advocacy events, and research related to rare neuro-immune disorders. Dr. Jaime Imitola, a neuroimmunologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, treats patients with rare neuro-immune disorders regularly. He attended the TMA’s 2017 RNDS and gave a talk on Hope vs. Hype: Are we ready for stem cells in neuro-immune disorders? He will also be a guest speaker on our upcoming podcast, Stem cells as treatment for rare neuro-immune disorders on January 23, 2018.

The TMA is excited to be able to connect with patients and medical professionals of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, and we hope to connect with other medical centers across the United States. We encourage those diagnosed with rare neuro-immune disorders to provide the TMA’s information to their physicians, which will help spread information and awareness throughout the medical community. If you are aware of a medical center that may be interested in starting a collaboration with the TMA, we would love to hear from you! You can email info@myelitis.org to share your ideas.

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Happy Thanksgiving from the TMA!

From all of us at the TMA, we wish you a Happy Thanksgiving! We hope the holiday gives you an opportunity to be with family and friends, reflect, and share gratitude.

Did you know that #GivingTuesday is coming up on Tuesday, November 28th? #GivingTuesday is a global day of giving that is celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday.

There are a few ways you can join in on #GivingTuesday, and support non-profit organizations like the TMA. Donations to the TMA fuel our research and education programs that are improving the quality of life of individuals with rare neuro-immune disorders.

  • Donate on our Facebook page: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Facebook have partnered to match donations up to $1000 per donate button on #GivingTuesday, starting at 8 AM ET. Facebook is also waiving donation fees on #GivingTuesday, meaning 100% of your donation will reach the TMA. You can find us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/myelitis/.
  • Create your own fundraising page on our website: If you don’t want to use Facebook, or don’t have an account, you can always create a fundraising page on our website. You can set a fundraising goal, and send the link to your family and friends. To create your own page, visit: http://tma.ong/2BdrDxz
  • Review the latest resources on our website and send a donation via Snail Mail or directly on our website if you find them helpful: Did you know we have a resource library that includes newsletter articles, podcasts, symposium videos, and summaries of new research articles? We also have the Myelitis Helpline, an online tool that was developed by The Transverse Myelitis Association to answer your questions about our organization and rare neuro-immune disorders.

This Thanksgiving, the TMA is thankful for the support of our community members, which has allowed us to drive research and other programs that improve the lives of those with rare neuro-immune disorders. From all of the staff and board members of the TMA, thank you!

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