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LP-A drives hard against MS

LP-A junior Bryce Bartunek came up with the idea of donating money to an MS charity. His mother, Lori, was diagnosed with MS in 2000. (Brian Basham/Record)1 / 3
Seeing Orange: These shoelaces tell the story of the team's fight against MS. (Brian Basham/Record)2 / 3
Lori Bartunek and Kelli Isaacson both were diagnosed with MS. Bartunek is the mother of LP-A basketball player Bryce Bartunek and Isaacson is the wife of head coach Lucas Isaacson. (Brian Basham/Record)3 / 3

There is a little bit of extra motivation this year for the Lake Park-Audubon boys' basketball to score as many points as possible -- besides trying to win the game.

For every point the Raiders score in a game this season, a business from the LP-A area will donate a dollar to a Multiple Sclerosis (or more commonly known as MS) charity.

And the Raiders will be doing so with flair, by adding a little color to their regular black, red and silver uniforms -- they are wearing orange shoelaces all season. Orange is the color for MS awareness.

It was the brainchild of LP-A junior guard Bryce Bartunek, who approached boys' head coach Lucas Isaacson about the idea.

"First, I was quite surprised when he came to me about it," Isaacson said. "I thought it was tremendous and touching. The team bought into it instantly."

Both Bartunek and Isaacson have a vested interest in MS, since both have someone close to them with the chronic disease.

Bryce's mother, Lori, was diagnosed with MS in 2000, while Isaacson's wife, Kelli, was recently diagnosed with it in April of 2009.

"I was pretty surprised when Lucas told me about Bryce's idea," Kelli Isaacson said. "Bryce never really talked about his mom having MS. I felt pretty honored and special. But more importantly, it was special because it was coming from my husband's team and it will be good bonding thing for them."

The orange shoelaces will be worn all season by the Raiders, as well as several fundraisers for MS during home games.

Also during home games, different businesses from the two communities will donate the amount the Raiders score that evening.

"I just thought it would be a good idea, since my mom has it and Kelli was diagnosed with MS," Bryce Bartunek said. "It's also a good team-building thing."

The Raiders will benefit from such a team-building tool, as well, since only one player returns with varsity experience.

"We are getting better chemistry with each game," Bryce said. "The first few games haven't been the greatest, but we are learning in each game. We are getting better."

Playing for a cause

Both Lori Bartunek and Kelli Isaacson are grateful for the effort by the Raiders for bringing the awareness of MS.

Although MS inflicts a high number of people around the world, most peoples' image of a person who has MS is of them in a wheelchair.

That is a possibility for those who suffer from MS, but not a certainty.

Also, geographic location has been theorized to be a cause of MS, with the deficiency of Vitamin D (from sunlight) being a possible trigger.

According to the AOL Health website, "The number of people who have MS increases with distance from the equator.

"The incidence of MS increases from less than 1 in 100,000 in areas near the equator to 30 to 80 in 100,000 in northern Europe and northern North America. In the southern hemisphere, the increase when moving away from the equator is less dramatic."

Lori Bartunek said she personally knows of six women in the LP-A area with MS.

One of them is her twin sister, Glory, who was diagnosed with MS just six months before Lori was.

"I had more pain and numbness than Glory, who had more problems with her eyes," Lori said.

The AOL Health website defines MS as the loss of a protective nerve cell covering called myelin. Without myelin, the brain and spinal cord can't communicate with the nerves in the rest of the body.

"MS gradually destroys myelin in patches throughout the brain and spinal cord, causing muscle weakness and other symptoms. These patches of damage are called lesions."

Symptoms are different in each person and the severity is also different. The extreme cases can lead the person to being confined in a wheelchair.

But for Lori Bartunek and Kelli Isaacson, the symptoms have been minor.

Genetics can pass along MS, but that's also not always the case.

"I didn't have any MS in my family that I know of," Kelli Isaacson said. "When I was diagnosed, though, it wasn't a big shock, since the doctors thought I had MS back in 2002. I already went through the shock of having MS then."

Living with MS is a challenge, with the biggest symptom being the exhaustion from the draining toll the disease takes on the body.

Both Kelli and Lori have children and both do take daily shots to treat their MS.

Although MS can be diagnosed, it still is a mystery to doctors trying to figure out what exactly causes it and the treatments are still a work in progress.

The ultimate goal is a cure, but the step of treating the fatigue would be important progress in itself.

"It's a disease which is still pretty broad (in definition)," Kelli Isaacson said.

The mental toll after being diagnosed with MS is also a challenge.

"MS is compared to diabetes, that there isn't a cure, but one can live a long, prosperous life," Kelli Isaacson said. "You just have to make adjustments. You know what the possibilities are, but you just keep living your life."

Lori Bartunek added it's hard to tell who has MS, many people who meet her have no idea she has it.

"Although most people can't tell who has MS, it's still there," she said. "When I first was diagnosed with it, that's all I thought about, but as time went on, it wasn't on my mind as much.

"You get used to the pain and fatigue and just go on."

But it's not just the individual who has to go through being diagnosed with MS, it's also the people close to them.

Lucas Isaacson said he felt stronger after seeing his wife handle it so well.

"She dealt with it very well, but yes, it was a hard thing," Lucas added. "I was nervous, but the more I read up on it, I started to deal with it better."

Some of Kelli Isaacson's symptoms include a tingling in the spine and tongue, as well as losing some sensation in her fingertips and toes.

Although she knows what the future could possibly hold, she has conformed her lifestyle into being healthier, as well as transitioning her attitude after having MS.

"I don't want sympathy," Kelli said. "And now, I don't let other people decide what I can do for me. I have a better outlook and perspective on life. I'm going to decide what I'm going to do."

When she feels the overwhelming emotions that go along with MS, she gives herself time to grieve.

"I still have my moments of panic or have moments where I do stumble and my memory isn't as good," Kelli added. "I still get frustrated and ask, 'Why me?'

"I let myself get upset for 10 minutes, but that's it. Then I get over it."

But she is heartened by the efforts of the basketball team.

"We just want the awareness about MS and what's going on with it," Lori said. "We don't want people to feel sorry us, just that it is out there."

The Isaacson and Bartunek families have both taken on the challenges of MS firsthand.

But now, their families have been extended -- by an entire basketball team -- to help with that challenge.

Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN.