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Abingtons woman encourages fellow multiple sclerosis patients

Peggy Carrick

When the symptoms of multiple sclerosis attempt to weigh down Peggy Carrick, her faith and spirit keep her afloat.

The South Abington Twp. wife and mother of three, whose grandchildren call her “Sweetie Pie,” finds affirmation of how blessed her life is despite her degenerative diagnosis when she turns to her family and church. They remind her that life is good, she said.

Mrs. Carrick grew up in Dunmore, one of six children of the late Ann and Edgar O’Connell. She loved playing games and riding her bike so much that as an adult, and even after her diagnosis in 1986, she remained an avid long-distance marathon bicyclist.

A Dunmore High School graduate, she married her husband, Rick, at just 19, and they quickly started a family. When their children, Mari, Casey and Ricky, were young, Mrs. Carrick took courses at local schools, eventually earning an associate degree in human services from University of Scranton.

She went on to work at Northeast Pennsylvania Center for Independent Living, first as a service coordinator and later as

a program director, visiting people in nursing homes and helping them regain the means to live independently.

As she worked and raised her children, Mrs. Carrick stayed active with church activities, too. She played guitar and sang with a folk group at St. Ann’s Basilica in Scranton. Following her diagnosis, maintaining her faith became instrumental in her drive to keep moving.

“It didn’t slow me down at all,” Mrs. Carrick said of her MS. “You have to keep going. Stay strong. It wasn’t easy.”

Numerous family friends pitched in to help out, though Mrs. Carrick was just like any other mom, going to events with her kids as much as she could.

“We never used my MS as an excuse,” she said. “That was a lesson for them.”

She also credits the programs, staff and fellow patients at Allied Services with giving her hope since the beginning.

“There’s such a good spirit there,” Mrs. Carrick said.

She joined the Scranton MS Self Help support group, which meets monthly at the Charles Luger Center at Allied, and she immediately took on a leadership role within the tight-knit community.

“People think support groups are a downer, but I went in with a positive swing and changed it around,” she explained. “What can we do to make (meetings) fun? Because education is the best way to take care of this disease.”

Over the last 15 years as the support group’s facilitator, Mrs. Carrick has arranged for speakers such as physicians, occupational therapists, nutritionists, physical therapists and massage therapists to come in and share tools and information. Each month, she calls around to ensure that each person has transport to the meetings. Every Christmas, the group holds a party for friends and family to attend.

The livelihood of the group has extended to additional lunch meetings among some members, who find other speakers to attend meetups outside their regular gatherings.

“The experience of learning has been big for me,” Mrs. Carrick said. “We understand it in ways no one else does. This disease is different for even doctors to understand.”

The camaraderie among the regular 30 to 45 people in her group has a positive effect on Mrs. Carrick and others, too.

“I’ve met some wonderful people and families,” she said.

Even outside of these settings, Mrs. Carrick often serves as an unintentional spokesperson for MS when she encounters people unfamiliar with it. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, or NMSS, the condition involves “an abnormal response of the body’s immune system ... directed against the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerve.”

In Mrs. Carrick’s world, it limits mobility but not character or joy.

She serves as a peer counselor for the NMSS, offering more private and anonymous contact over the phone to people who aren’t able or comfortable with attending meetings.

“Just listening is how you identify with someone,” she said. “I know when I needed someone to talk to, I had it.”

But she also is willing to answer questions from neighbors and friends at the Church of St. Benedict and Our Lady of the Snows in the Abingtons, where she is a former member of the liturgy committee and longtime cantor.

“I’m so grateful I can still sing,” she said.

Working with people from all walks of life via church activities has given her a chance to learn from others while also expanding their comprehension of what MS looks like.

“I’ve taught a lot of people about MS,” Mrs. Carrick said.

She compiles prayers each week for the Rev. James McGarry that address the needs of her fellow parishioners, celebrate holy days and beg for protection, guidance and solace for those in need, be they soldiers or people suffering in the world. She monitors the local and national news to keep the intentions on target.

Sometimes without meaning to, Mrs. Carrick effects change in others with her MS. She inspired a friend from her folk singing days, Marilyn Howells, to pursue training as a massage therapist, and now hires her weekly to help stretch her muscles in addition to the exercises she does at Allied.

“People who exercise (cope) so much better,” Mrs. Carrick said. “It’s good for your brain.”

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by THETIMESTRIBUNE
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length


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