College student keeps up fight against MS
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When she was a freshman at Hempfield Area High School, Ashley Contino developed troubling symptoms that prompted the school nurse to phone her mother to pick her up.
"Ashley was dizzy, tired, had a headache and numbness on the left side of her face," recalled her mom, Tina Contino.
After driving her daughter to the family doctor, Mrs. Contino was advised to take her directly to the Westmoreland Hospital emergency room for testing. Hospital staff referred her to a neurologist who did blood tests and a spinal tap.
Four days later, he diagnosed Ashley, then 15, with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. Symptoms vary from person to person but can include fatigue, loss of balance and numbness.
Rather than letting the disease dampen her spirits, Ms. Contino, now 19 and an accounting major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, fought back.
"I refuse to let MS get me down," she said. "I'm working 21 hours a week on campus and taking 15 credits at the same time. I feel the best medicine is to maintain a positive attitude."
She has fought back by organizing fundraising events for research by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society that have brought in more than $75,000 through two dinners and annual MS Walks.
"Ashley's an amazing woman," said Kim Fecich, director of development for the Western Pennsylvania MS Chapter, who noted that Ms. Contino is one of the area's top fundraisers for MS. "She and her family have greatly aided our research efforts as well as our local services and programs."
Ms. Contino is the daughter of Tina and Robert Contino, who live in Hempfield near Jeannette. Mr. Contino works as a regional service manager for Johnson & Johnson. Mrs. Contino operates a baby-sitting service from her home and is youth director at the First Presbyterian Church in Jeanette. Ms. Contino has one sister, Amber, 22, who also attends IUP as an elementary education major.
One of the local chapter's most important services is providing emergency financial assistance for people living with MS. It also provides mechanical equipment such as wheelchairs, grab bars, walkers and canes, and family services, including respite care to give caregivers a break.
Ms. Contino didn't want to overdo the concept of dinner fundraisers, so she scoured the Internet for alternatives and came upon the idea of staging a rubber duck race. The event is scheduled for 2 p.m. April 2 on Slate Run Creek on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg. Participants will be able to buy rubber ducks and race them in the creek for prizes for first-, second-, third- and last-place finishers.
Ms. Contino's cousin, Bruce Contino, managed to enlist the school's student organization, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, as event sponsor.
Ms. Contino, who plans to race her own duck, hopes the race will draw 150 or more participants. The cost of one duck is $10; additional ducks are available at discount.
For an additional $12, participants can have lunch in the Hempfield Room at Chambers Hall. Black T-shirts with a yellow duck on front and the words "MS is quack" will be on sale for $12.
"If you look at Ashley, you wouldn't know she has MS," her mother said. "However, she still gets extremely exhausted from time to time. She also has to have an MRI every six months to find out if any new lesions have developed in her brain."
"I never give up," Ms. Contino said. "From the time I was diagnosed, I wanted to raise as much money as possible for MS research."
To learn more about Ashley Contino's experience, go to wekeepmoving.org, click on "Explore Our Map," then "Jeanette."
The Greensburg MS Walk will be held at 10 a.m. April 10 at the Nevin Arena at Lynch Field. Details: www.nationalmssociety.org/pax.
To learn more about multiple sclerosis: 1-800-FIGHT-MS (344-4867).
First Published March 24, 2011 5:24 am