Woman turns ‘terrifying’ diagnosis into drive for MS fundraising

Staff writerMarch 30, 2014 

Jenn Harper, left, is leading the Jenn's Journey fundraising team. She is pictured with Tim Eagan, owner of Eagan's Drive In, a top sponsor of Jenn's Journey.

ANDY HOBBS — Staff writer


    To start a fundraising team for Walk MS on April 12, visit walkmsnorthwest.org or call 800-344-4867.

The first signs of multiple sclerosis for Jenn Harper came in 2004, when she woke up one day and couldn’t see out of her left eye. Three years later, she woke up one morning and couldn’t hear. That’s when the MS diagnosis became official.

“It was absolutely terrifying,” Harper said.

Multiple sclerosis affects the central nervous system and the flow of information between the brain and body. Most people with MS are diagnosed at between 20 and 50 years of age, and the disease tends to affect more women, according to the National MS Society. The cause is unknown. The society reports that MS is more prevalent in the Northwest and most commonly affects white people.

At 41, Harper is a poster child not just for MS but for local fundraising. Every year since 2008, she has joined the annual Walk MS Washington event with her team, Jenn’s Journey. Last year, the team raised $5,810 and was the largest fundraising team in Thurston County. This year, the team has recruited 93 participants. They have a goal of bringing in $5,000.

The 3.5-mile Walk MS event begins at 9 a.m. April 12 at Horizons Elementary School, 4601 67th Ave. SE, Lacey. Proceeds benefit MS research and support programs.

As of Friday, Harper had netted $2,900, thanks in part to the owners of Eagan’s Drive-In on Capitol Boulevard in Tumwater. In addition to donating proceeds from an annual Fourth of July classic car show, Eagan’s hosted a private fundraiser for the team Saturday night.

Harper, a 1991 graduate of Olympia High School, is in the first stage of the disease. She suffers from memory issues, and has problems with walking, hearing and vision. She has also self-administered nearly 1,400 injections of medication since 2007.

“You can either fall into a pit of despair or you can throw a party,” said Harper, referring to her MS fundraising efforts. “My party is kind of what keeps me going.”

Shelton resident Tiffany Pratt, a longtime friend of Harper’s, will participate in this year’s walk with Jenn’s Journey.

“She always tries to bring some sun,” Pratt said of her friend’s positive attitude. “She’s handling it with a lot of dignity.”

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869 or ahobbs@theolympian.com

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