Ginny Neri is not dying.
She is not paralyzed.
But the 46-year-old Scottsdale mother does have multiple sclerosis.And a vision to educate students in the Scottsdale Unified School District about the disease that attacks people their parent's age.
As a volunteer for the Arizona chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Neri is working with the high school service learning courses to educate students about the widely misunderstood disease.
The problem the society wants to address, she said, is the fact many people don't understand the disease's come-and-go symptoms, and believe it's terminal — leading to fear or a lack of diagnosis that could delay medical treatment to slow down the effects of the progressive neurological disease, she said. The society offers a wide variety of help for families who may be fearful about their future, she added, including research and information about clinical trials online.
"Most people don't know what the disease is," Neri said. "I didn't and I was 40 when I was diagnosed. Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50 — and that particular age group has school age children."
Neri and her daughter, Jennifer, have already visited the service learning classes that provide community service throughout the city and as far south as Mexico. She had students rub petroleum jelly over eyeglasses to understand what it is like when symptoms affect eye muscles, clouding vision.
She also had students use walkers to understand what it's like for those who have more nerve damage than she suffers. And then she surprised students by letting them know that, though her symptoms — debilitating as they can be — aren't obvious. She was diagnosed with the disease six years ago after feeling numbness in her legs.
She also hopes to inspire students to take part in the MS Walk in Papago Park on March 27.
"It is a lifelong disease, and very unpredictable," Neri said. "Your life can be very challenging, but you are going to survive this."
Depression is often a result of the disease based on a public image of crutches and death, she said.
Neri hopes to expand to other school districts in the future.
John Baird, director of the service learning program in the district, said he was inspired by the Neri family to teach students about different illnesses.
"I thought it was important kids knew that a lot of our teachers, people in our community, have MS. It's another cause for us to get involved in," he said.
For more information, contact the Tempe MS chapter at (480) 968-2488 or visit www.nationalmssociety.org/aza/home/.