Pet event to benefit Myasthenia Gravis Association

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When Arlene Weintraub of Upper Saint Clair was in nursing school, her instructors told her not to spend much time reading about myasthenia gravis, a rare chronic disease that affects the voluntary muscles.

"They told her she probably wouldn't meet anyone with the disease," said her husband, David Weintraub.

But five years ago, Mrs. Weintraub, 71, began to have symptoms of the neuromuscular disorder.

On Oct. 27, the Weintraubs, both on the board of the Myasthenia Gravis Association of Western Pennsylvania, will be at South Park's dog park for the fifth annual Pooch Parade, a 1-mile walk to support the organization, one of the oldest and largest in the United States.

"We were looking for an event that our patients could participate in. They are often limited in what they can do. This is a paved, smooth area, and those with walkers and canes can do it," said Maree Gallagher, executive director of the Myasthenia Gravis Association of Western Pennsylvania.

Myasthenia gravis strikes about 30 per 100,000 people. It affects arm and leg movement and also can impact eye movement, vision, speech, chewing and breathing. There is no known cause or cure, and it can strike suddenly. It is often called the "snowflake disease" because it manifests differently in each person. Most often, it occurs in women younger than 40 and men older than 50.

No two days are alike for Mrs. Weintraub, her husband said. "One day she feels great," he said, and the next, she may have to rest more frequently.

Mrs. Weintraub's symptoms began while she was vacationing in the Caribbean. The heat made her feel sluggish, and her eyelids became droopy. Upon returning home, she saw several doctors.

"None of them knew what it was," Mr. Weintraub said, adding that a lack of a diagnosis was frustrating to a retired nurse. Finally, an eye exam helped reveal myasthenia gravis.

Mrs. Weintraub manages her disease with medication.

Next month's walk will raise awareness, funding for research and support for those with the disease. It also will support services provided by the Myasthenia Gravis Association treatment center in the Allegheny Professional Building on the North Side. A service partner of Allegheny General Hospital, the center last year served about 500 patients from 26 counties in Pennsylvania and parts of West Virginia and Ohio.

The treatment center offers information about the disease to the medical community and the public and provides free help to patients in navigating insurance, disability and other medical forms. The center has two neurologists on staff.

"We also have a monthly support group and a virtual support group on Facebook," Ms. Gallagher said.

The gatherings of humans and dogs at South Park began shortly after Mrs. Weintraub's diagnosis when Mr. Weintraub decided to throw himself a birthday party, inviting his fellow dog-lovers to come and to make donations to support those with myasthenia gravis. A couple of years later, they added the walk. Last year's walk raised about $6,000.

"The dog community is very supportive, and it's very important," Mr. Weintraub said.

"We are hoping to do more this year. We're a very small organization. Sponsorship is key in raising larger chunks of money," said Ms. Gallagher, adding that several local businesses support the organization and will be at South Park, offering refreshments and other services for pets. In the spirit of Halloween, prizes will be given to dogs -- and their owners -- wearing unique costumes.

A silent auction also will be held for prizes that include Steelers tickets and a Myrtle Beach vacation.

"It brings together people that have dogs who love to get out with their pets and enjoy their day," Ms. Gallagher said, noting that the group checks the Steelers schedule when planning the event. "They have a late game that day."

Registration for the Pooch Parade begins at 9 a.m. Cost to participate is $25 for one walker with a dog, $10 for a second dog and $15 for walkers without dogs. For more information: 412-566-1545.


Laurie Bailey, freelance writer:


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