How Karen is using an MS diagnosis to help others

A little more than a year ago, Kendallville resident Karen Bloom contacted the leadership at Parkview Noble Hospital about starting a support group for area people with Multiple Sclerosis. After Bloom completed a four-week training through the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the group, who refers to themselves as a self-help group, began meeting the first Thursday of each month at Parkview Noble Hospital.

The only other group in the area had been meeting in Auburn, and when that leader wanted to retire, Bloom was asked to take her place. But Bloom, who is confined to a wheelchair due to her own struggles with MS, wanted a group closer to her home. “This just seemed like a natural fit and I appreciate Parkview Noble providing the meeting room for us,” she said.

Bloom has a topic for every meeting, so there is discussion concerning that topic and then time for open conversation. “This is a safe haven,” she said. “We can cry and we can laugh. I want everyone to be comfortable in the group and I think they are.” She has members come from Auburn, Angola and areas of Noble and LaGrange counties.

Most members of the group are in their 40s and 50s. “Isolation is a big thing with MS,” she added. “Most of us have given up our careers because of having MS. I like to think the group is helping bring some of us out of our shell and we’re making new friends. Two members and their husbands even go out for dinner together before the meetings.”

Bloom’s own battle with MS began in 2007 when she was 47 and started having a lot of health issues, such as difficulty walking, fatigue and numbness. Over Christmas in 2007, she went blind in one eye and, following an MRI, which showed three active lesions on her brain, she was diagnosed with MS.

“I was sort of relieved,” Bloom explained. “I had two cousins who died from cancer, so I was really worried I had a tumor on my optic nerve.”

There are three types of MS:

  • Relapse remitting, which comes and goes for years
  • Secondary Progressive, which doesn’t progress or worsen
  • Primary Progressive, which gets worse over time

MS is called the “snowflake disease” because no two people with it are alike.

Bloom worked several years as the Advertising Director at KPC Media (the News Sun newspaper in Kendallville). From her time of diagnosis, she was a paraplegic and wheelchair-bound within one year. She continued to work for five more years as a paraplegic. “After those five years,” she said, “I told myself it is time to acknowledge I have a chronic disease. Fatigue is a big thing with MS. And I was spending 12-15 hours in the wheelchair and that was just too much. It was exhausting.”

Almost four years ago, a beautiful black lab named Nikki entered Bloom’s life as her service dog. She is by Bloom’s side to retrieve things and reach for things Bloom can’t pick up or things she drops. Nikki can open the door to the refrigerator and even pull up the bed covers for Bloom if she’s cold. “She is something special,” Bloom said. “She is a happy dog; she loves to work. She has brought me out of my shell and gives me confidence. I am no longer the lady in the wheelchair. I am now the lady with the dog.”

The MS self-help meetings are held at Parkview Noble Hospital the first Thursday of each month from 7-8:30 p.m. at Parkview Noble Hospital. For more, contact Karen Bloom at (260) 249-4046 or Parkview Noble Community Relations at (260) 347-861.

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