Fighting The Good Fight Against MS

Originally published in the Prince William Journal, April 10, 1997
By K. Daniel Glover

Photo by Susan Covell/Special to the Journal

Photo by Susan Covell/Special to the Journal

When outdoor adventure educator Ann Zabaldo experienced numbness and tingling in her legs in January 1988, she credited it to a spill in the creek.

The strange sensations concerned the then-38-year-old Silver Spring, Md., woman only because of the potential impact on her career. The thought that they could be symptoms of a more debilitating ailment never entered her mind. “It never occurred to me anything was really wrong,” she recalls, “but I figured I was going to be in therapy.”

The symptoms had nothing to do with Zabaldo’s tumble, however. Pictures of her brain taken with a magnetic resonance imaging scanner, or MRI, soon rendered a far different and broader-reaching verdict — multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease of the central nervous system.

Shortly after the neurological diagnosis, the impact the disease would have on Zabaldo’s life became clear. Her condition worsened, and she found herself virtually bedridden for 30 days.

Although still determined to beat the disease, she realized she would have to sacrifice the profession she had chosen nearly a decade earlier. Zabaldo conducted her last commercial program in May 1988 out of concern for the safety of her backpacking clients.

Now, nine years later, she works out of her home and runs her own company, Az You Like It Cards, which manufactures specialty greeting cards for outdoor enthusiasts. And in her spare time, she fights back the only way she knows how. She volunteers her time, as she has since 1989, for an MRI study at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., and she raises money for the annual MS Walk, scheduled for Saturday.

Zabaldo cannot participate in the walk, but her housemate, Tina, has every year since Zabaldo’s diagnosis. Last year, Tina formed an MS Walk team and named it after Zabaldo’s standard schnauzer, Noah. Team “Noah’s Barque” raised $5,404, putting it fourth among the walk’s top fundraisers.

But more important than even the fundraising, Zabaldo says, is the message that she preaches to her fellow MS patients, which include an estimated 5,000 in the Washington area and some 350,000 in the United States.

“My message to people about MS is that strides are being made in treating this disease, and they are spectacular,” she says. She has had phenomenal symptoms relief from a recent drug, beta seron. “I’ve had no new activity in 2 1/2 years. It’s a total miracle.”