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Heppner woman with MS marches on Capitol Hill

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden meets with members of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Oregon Chapter, including Merilee McDowell of Heppner (second from left) and Pamila Hussey, a native of Milton Freewater (center), to discuss the 21st Century Cures Act.

Merilee McDowell, who spearheaded a fundraising walk in Heppner 18 years ago to fight multiple sclerosis, recently shared her story on Capitol Hill.

The Heppner woman, who was diagnosed with MS in 1977, traveled to Washington, D.C., with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Oregon Chapter to attend the NMSS Public Policy Conference.

The purpose of the trip, McDowell said, was to network, to inspire one another and to advocate for issues and action for those with MS. Armed with information, they sought to increase Natural Institutes of Health research funding and address issues around the MS Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program, which funds important innovative research.

The Oregon group met with many groups and people while in Washington, D.C., including U.S. Rep Greg Walden, R-Oregon, and Kristen Shatynski, the Health Policy Legislative Assistant in his office.

“I shared my personal story and I really felt heard and that my voice mattered,” McDowell said. “Do not underestimate the power of talking or writing to your congressman or representative, they care.”

While McDowell has been active raising money at the yearly Eastern Oregon MS Walk, she’s new at being a multiple sclerosis activist. Her experience in our nation’s capital armed her with information on how she can make more of an impact and help others with MS by advocating and sharing her story.

McDowell said funding research is a key issue in finding a cure for multiple sclerosis. In 2015, she said the MS Society invested about $54 million for research.

“Research is how we can stop MS in its tracks, restore what has been lost and end MS forever,” she said.

When McDowell was diagnosed nearly 40 years ago, she said there were no therapies for the disease. Now, there are 13 FDA therapies for people with relapsing/remitting MS. And currently the FDA is reviewing a therapy to treat progressive MS, she said.

McDowell is thrilled with the ongoing support of the Eastern Oregon MS Walk. In addition to family, friends and citizens of Heppner, the walk draws people from across the region.

“Whenever you have a worthwhile cause in this area, everyone steps up to help,” McDowell said.

This year’s event is Saturday, April 23 beginning with registration and check-in at 9 a.m. at All Saint’s Episcopal Church, 460 N. Gale St., Heppner. Coffee, fruit and cinnamon rolls will be available. The well-marked 5K walk, which is wheelchair accessible, begins at 10 a.m. There’s also a 5K run and a 10K walk with a route map. A hosted lunch and door prizes will follow.

With no set registration fee, donations of any amount are welcome. Participants raising $100 or more can earn prizes, starting with a T-shirt (while supplies last).

Those unable to participate on April 23 can still help by registering as a virtual walker. This includes walking on your lunch break, to and from work or with other people on another day.

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

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