March 12, 2009

Flamingos fighting MS in Hazen

It wasn’t his birthday – at least that he knew of, anyway, joked Reuben Gutsche, Hazen. But he knew there had to be some special explanation for why he counted 15 pink flamingos milling about his front-yard snow banks Thursday morning.

There was a special explanation, indeed. The pink, plastic lawn ornaments are part of a local fundraising effort to find a cure for multiple sclerosis. The notoriously noble effort is the doing of Lorisa Newman, Hazen.

Each year, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society holds a fundraiser walk to help raise money for the continuing research into a cure for MS, Lorisa explained. Teams organize individual fundraising efforts before gathering for the annual walk, which this year is May 9 in Bismarck.

Lorisa is in her fifth year as a member of a fundraising team started by her sister, LeAnn Bornemann, Center. Last year, the group numbered 77 members and raised the most of any team at the event. This year, Lorisa hopes the team surpasses 100 members.

Each year, team members come up with creative ways to raise money for the cause, and Lorisa is using flamingos to "flock" Hazen residents’ yards at the request of others. After a flocking, Lorisa would pick up the flamingos for $10, and for $20 she would flock someone else’s yard of the "victim’s" choice. For $5, victims can purchase flamingo insurance to ensure the non-native species doesn’t infest their yard again. A donation is not required to remove the flamingos. It’s all in good fun, Lorisa said, and hopes residents see it as such.

But Lorisa’s emotional investment runs much deeper than simply serving as a member of a fundraising team. Her team’s name is "Legs for Lorisa."

In December 2004, Lorisa herself was diagnosed with MS.

According to, multiple sclerosis is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. The progress, severity, and specific symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary from one person to another.

The body’s own defense system attacks myelin, the fatty substance that surrounds and protects the nerve fibers in the central nervous system. The nerve fibers themselves can also be damaged. The damaged myelin forms scar tissue (sclerosis), which gives the disease its name. When any part of the myelin sheath or nerve fiber is damaged or destroyed, nerve impulses traveling to and from the brain and spinal cord are distorted or interrupted, producing the variety of symptoms that can occur.

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