Friends and family pushed 18-year-old Breea Renee around the Walk MS track last year at LEGOLAND California. Now 19 years old and no longer in a wheelchair, Breea is walking the track on Sunday to raise awareness of multiple sclerosis and funds for research as well as services and programs for people with MS.
“I’m really looking forward to actually being able to walk the walk,” said Breea, who lives in Carlsbad.
According to the National MS Society, more than 2.1 million people worldwide are affected by MS, a nervous system disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. Breea was diagnosed with MS in December 2011.
On Dec. 8, 2011, the then-La Costa Canyon High School senior woke up feeling “off-balance.” By that evening, she was paralyzed on the left side of her body, blind in her left eye, and unable to speak or swallow. After a series of tests, Breea was diagnosed with a “rare and catastrophic onset” type of MS called tumefactive MS.
“It was really scary and really unexpected how I felt and not knowing what was going on,” she said. “I never even heard of the disease before.”
After seven blood plasma transfusions and months of physical therapy and medication, Breea is now able to walk again with a leg brace and she has regained her sight in her left eye.
“She had to learn how to walk again; she had to learn to basically do everything again all over,” said Breea’s mother, Michelle Renee. “It was a very long, difficult and challenging situation for Breea.”
Breea was determined to walk across the stage to receive her high school diploma, which she did in June. She still struggles with numbness in the left side of her body, dizziness and headaches, and recently she has had trouble swallowing. Because of her newest symptoms, the college freshman returned home from Northern Arizona University after her first semester. But Breea said she plans to return to the university in the fall and is currently continuing her studies at MiraCosta College.
“It’s been really hard. It takes a lot of determination, but I feel like I’m so young and I don’t want my life to be over,” Breea said. “The only way I can be a normal teenager again is to work hard and get back to as normal as possible.”
Michelle added that Breea, who used to be a competitive cheerleader, is also focused on learning gymnastics again.
“She’s not letting MS determine what her life is going to be,” Michelle said. “She does not allow that to be a part of the way she thinks or feels.”
In addition to her schooling and training, Breea is focused on raising funds for Walk MS, which is one of three walks organized by the Pacific South Coast Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The first walk took place April 6 at the University of California, Irvine, and the last walk is set for April 27 at NTC Park in San Diego.
Breea’s friends organized a team for Breea last year called Breea’s Besties. This year, Breea’s team is trying to raise as much funds as possible to support the MS Society. Breea’s Besties has raised $2,075 so far, which is more than twice the team’s original $1,000 goal.
“The MS society really stepped up to help us when Breea was first diagnosed,” Michelle said. “It was not just a catastrophic onset of multiple sclerosis. It was catastrophic in many ways for us—emotionally, physically. It devastated us financially.”
After Breea’s diagnosis, Michelle had to leave her job to be her daughter’s full-time recovery partner. They also had to move out of their home that had stairs into a one-story apartment.
“The MS Society has given me so much to boost my confidence—helping me with a scholarship, helping us to get into a new home, giving us support and really helping us to get back on our feet after the diagnosis,” Breea said.
About 3,500 people are expected to walk a 1.5-mile route on Sunday through LEGOLAND to help raise about $400,000 in donations to benefit research as well as services and programs for people with MS.
Admission and registration is free. Check-in begins at 7 a.m. and the walk begins at 8 a.m. Walkers will receive discounted admission to re-enter the theme park at the conclusion of the walk or at a later date.
“Come out and support the MS Society so that we can continue to pour as much money as possible not only into research to find a cure for MS, but to continue to help families like me and Breea who are hit with something so catastrophic, so suddenly,” Michelle said. “We really needed the help and we wouldn’t have gotten the help without the MS Society.”
To join or donate to Breea’s Besties, visit http://main.nationalmssociety.org/site/TR?pg=team&fr_id=20947&team_id=326148.
To donate, register or volunteer for Walk MS, visit www.mswalk.com.