Father, daughter joined in fight against MSDean Blosberg had been living with multiple sclerosis for more than a decade when his middle child, Emily, was diagnosed with the same condition.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Dean Blosberg had been living with multiple sclerosis for more than a decade when his middle child, Emily, was diagnosed with the same condition.
It didn’t seem fair.
“It scared me,” the Shoreview, Minn., man said. “It pissed me off; it made me very angry. This wasn’t supposed to happen to my kids. It was supposed to be my thing.”
Emily, 15, dealt with the reality of the potentially disabling disease in the same way she’d seen her father deal with it all of her life: She kept on with her life.
“I’m able to walk, I’m able to go to school, I’m able to hang out with my friends,” said Emily, who will be a sophomore in the fall at the Academy for Sciences and Agriculture in Vadnais Heights, Minn. “I just do it slower. I don’t have as much energy as the others.”
Most of the Blosberg family — Dean, 44; mom Andrea, 45; Emily, younger brother Peter, 13; and two foreign exchange students — were in Proctor early Saturday morning for the start of the 33rd annual National MS Society 150-mile bike ride to the Twin Cities. With more than 4,000 bicyclists participating, the two-day event on a steamy June weekend is expected to raise $3 million to support programs, services and research to benefit the 17,000 people living with MS in the Upper Midwest.
Emily is “Bike Ambassador” for the event, and the rest of the family also are among the 1,000 volunteers needed to keep such a large-scale event running smoothly and safely. The exception is older sister Jessica, 18, who flew out on Friday for an eight-week internship in Beijing.
“I can’t bike that far”
The Blosbergs are veterans of the ride, having participated in various ways since even before Dean was diagnosed. But this year’s event is the first for Tony Wasbotten of Duluth, whose wife, LuAnn Wasbotten, was diagnosed with MS about 13 years ago.
Wasbotten has participated for years in other fundraisers for MS, such as a walk in Duluth. But he hadn’t been aware of the bike ride until a year ago.
“Last year I ran into some guys from the Cities who were in Duluth,” Wasbotten explained. “They were up for the MS 150, which I’d never heard of. They said you should join our team next year. I said I can’t bike that far. They kind of laughed.”
A few months ago, they e-mailed him. He joined the team and recruited four other Duluthians. As of Saturday, the 12-member team had raised $11,500 for the cause. Wasbotten accounted for $3,300 of that.
The Wasbottens, both 49, were married 13 years ago, about the time LuAnn was diagnosed with MS. It started when she lost half of the vision in her left eye, Tony Wasbotten said. Despite fatigue and pain associated with the disease, she continued in her job as general manager of Old Chicago in Canal Park.
“It’s a stressful kind of job,” Tony Wasbotten said. “Five years ago she had to quit working. If she could go back tomorrow, she would.”
“A great role model”
The Blosbergs knew little about MS when they first participated in the ride in 1998 in honor of a family friend’s mother-in-law who had the disease. Dean Blosberg was a critical-care nurse at the time, and his only experience with the disease was caring for a patient who was unable to function on his own.
One morning he awoke with numbness in his face. As the problem persisted, he went to the emergency room. A brain scan revealed the lesions indicative of MS.
The children were young, and Dean Blosberg was the family’s sole breadwinner.
“It scared the crap out of me,” he said. “We went to a park and bawled our eyes out for about an hour. Then we went to the MS Society, because we didn’t know where else to turn.”
There, they met a volunteer who had been living with MS for 25 years. “She looked remarkably healthy to us, and she gave us more hope than we could have ever imagined,” Andrea Blosberg said.
Dean Blosberg gets an injection of medication every other day, and on the off day he feels like he has the flu. Still, he soldiers on, working full time at Medtronic, the medical device maker.
“He’s been a great role model for all of us,” Andrea Blosberg said. “From the beginning he said, ‘I’m not going to let this disease get me.’ ”
The family has volunteered in every possible way for the MS Society, helping with bike rides, walks, mud runs and snowmobile fundraisers. Dean Blosberg figured he’d paid his dues.
“It’s one of those things that I have worked for since I was diagnosed, that the kids would never have to go through what I’ve gone through,” he said.
“The year of mystery”
Emily Blosberg remembers the exact date — Sept. 9, 2010 —when the fingertips of her right hand started to go numb. “I thought, ‘This was weird, my hand must be asleep,’ ” she recounted. “It felt like I was wearing a glove.”
The numbness spread to the rest of her body but went away after about a week. It returned a week later during a family camping trip, accompanied by a “jumping” sensation in her eyes. “You know how the old TVs scroll?” was how she explained it.
That began what Emily described as “the year of mystery.” She missed most of her eighth-grade year of school, fatigued with her undiagnosed disease. The Blosbergs knew that it’s unusual for MS to be diagnosed in people younger than 20, and it’s unusual for two members of the same family to have the disease. And yet, Emily’s symptoms were eerily familiar.
Last September, when the family received the image from Emily’s third MRI, the teenager didn’t need a doctor to tell her what it revealed.
“We brought the scan home and threw it into the computer, and she looked at it and said, ‘There’s new lesions,’ ” Andrea Blosberg related. “I had to call the doctor and say, ‘Please get the radiologist to read this quickly, because she already knows what’s going on here.’ ”
Emily receives a daily injection, but doesn’t experience the side effects her dad encounters. The thing she was nervous about at first, she said, was telling her friends and being treated differently because of her illness.
“She doesn’t like pity-party type of stuff,” Dean Blosberg said.
6,000 gallons of Gatorade
After leaving Proctor, the Blosbergs were headed to Finlayson to serve bicyclists at one of the rest stops. After a overnight stay in Hinckley, the thousands of bikers will continue to White Bear Lake today.
Volunteers distributed 7,000 gallons of water and 6,000 gallons of Gatorade during last year’s event, said Anna Kucera, the ride’s public relations director. Organizers expected to give out more liquids this year, Kucera said, because they knew high heat and humidity were in the forecast.
Tony Wasbotten wasn’t entirely looking forward to that.
“It’s going to be kind of brutal,” Wasbotten said a day before the ride began. “But my pain will be temporary compared with what people with MS have to deal with every day.”
The important thing is raising money to help others with MS and fuel research efforts, Wasbotten said.
Dean Blosberg agreed.
“It isn’t about riding a bike 150 miles,” he said. “It’s about fundraising.”