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Siblings with MS raising funds to help others

Posted: March 13, 2014 6:51 p.m.
Updated: March 13, 2014 6:51 p.m.

Experts say that while there’s a higher risk that multiple sclerosis doesn’t run in families, it is not yet proven - and that’s the stance taken by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

But tell that to siblings Matthew Wooten, 29, and his sister Courtney, 28, of Agua Dulce.

Both were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis exactly one month after their 17th birthdays.

To help fight the disease that affects them, the Wooten’s are hosting a St. Patrick’s Day fundraiser at the family’s Sweetwater Café.  

“I want to give back and support the organization that has supported me, and helped me and my family for the past 13 years,” Matthew said.

Matthew was diagnosed with the disease after losing feeling in his face in 2001.

Courtney had just begun her senior year in high school when she lost vision in her right eye in 2002.

Affecting the brain and spinal cord, symptoms can be varied in people making it difficult for doctors to diagnose, said Christine Grontkowski, the community development manager for the National MS Society, overseeing the Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys.

“There are so many symptoms that it could be so many different things,” Grontkowski said.

Symptoms can include extreme fatigue described as like having the flu every day, she said. Others experience vision problems or a lack of feeling.

One person has to turn her water heater down so she doesn’t get burned, because she can’t feel the degree of the heat, Grontkowski said.

People afflicted by MS can go in and out of remission where the disease lies dormant for months or years, and then strikes again, Courtney said.

In Courtney’s case, she loses her vision somewhere around once a year which prevents her from driving.

Sometimes the loss is in her right eye, the eye first affected, and at other times it affects her left eye. The episodes can last from one to eight months.

A progressive disease, the longer one of the episodes lasts the less a person recovers, she said.

Typically, MS strikes people a little later in life than it did in the siblings, but in the case of Matthew and Courtney, who were diagnosed at age 17, the “doctor said we were special,” Courtney said.

But the siblings are blessed, she said. Despite the uncertainty of when the disease will flare up again, the brother and sister have a support system in place with family.

Matthew co-owns Sweetwater Cafe in Agua Dulce with his mother, Kimberle. And Courtney works for her grandparent’s aerospace company in Valencia, she said.

Both brother and sister have been active in fundraising for the National MS Society in the past, Grontkowski. They participated in the greater LA Walk in 2008 and 2011, and one in Lancaster in 2007.

Courtney raised over $6,500 herself in 2008, she said.

Until now, however, the siblings had never thought of using their own family eatery as a fundraising tool.

“Normally, I just hit up all my co-workers to help,” Courtney said.

The Wooten family is donating 20 percent of the evening’s proceeds to the National MS Society.

The most important thing to know about MS, Courtney said, is that it’s not going to kill. A person just has to figure out a way to make it work.

“It’s not a death sentence. It’s just a life sentence,” she said.

The fundraiser is Monday, March 17 at the Sweetwater Café, located at 33310 Agua Dulce Canyon Road in Agua Dulce. The event runs from 5 p.m. “until the last person leaves,” Courtney said.


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