Rochester pastor preparing to run Erie marathon despite myasthenia gravis

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The Rev. Mel McRoberts of Rochester has a chronic autoimmune disorder that can cause severe muscle weakness and exhaustion, but it isn't stopping him from running a marathon.

Rev. McRoberts, 60, has been running since high school, when he was on the track and cross country teams at Beaver High School. Diagnosed in 2007 with myasthenia gravis, he feared his running days were over.

His first symptom was a drooping eyelid. Next came severe muscle weakness, a dragging foot, swollen feet, weak fingers and double vision.

Rev. McRoberts says, "While I have MG, MG doesn't have me!"

To prove his point, the man who still works full time as pastor of the Rochester Free Methodist Church will run The Presque Isle Marathon in Erie on Sunday.

He has two goals: to raise awareness of myasthenia gravis -- which translates as "grave muscle weakness" -- and to raise money for the Myasthenia Gravis Association of Western Pennsylvania at Allegheny General Hospital.

Because Rev. McRoberts doesn't know if his MG might worsen, he feels it's important to rise to this challenge in his life while he still can. He finished the Presque Isle Marathon in 2004 in 4 hours and 31 minutes. In training for the 2010 marathon, he has run 15 miles in 2 hours and 30 minutes.

"I'm especially concerned about people with MG who may never run a marathon," Rev. McRoberts said. "I run now because I can. I want people whose symptoms are more severe to know that my thoughts are with them every step."

MG is an autoimmune disorder that can affect a variety of muscles. Symptoms include difficulty eating, walking, lifting arms, talking, laughing or at worst, difficulty breathing. With support and treatment, many patients can live active lives, the MG Association says.

Myasthenia gravis can be difficult to diagnose. Rev. McRoberts was lucky to be diagnosed four months after his first symptom appeared.

"Some patients endure many months or even years without a proper diagnosis," said neurologist George Small, medical director of the Myasthenia Gravis Association at Allegheny General Hospital. He said Rev. McRoberts' early diagnosis and treatment at the MG Association was pivotal.

Early on, Rev. McRoberts often felt exhausted and frequently dropped things.

"To this day I don't hold babies unless I'm sitting down," he quipped. He says he was grateful that he was referred to The Myasthenia Gravis Association, where he is now on the board.

Go to www.mgawpa.org to make a donation in honor of Rev. McRoberts' run. Click on the banner ad at the top of the page.


Linda Wilson Fuoco: lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-722-0087.


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