Dr. Alicia Flach, left, a board-certified multiple sclerosis clinical specialist and clinical associate professor at the University of South Carolina, walks alongside a patient in a study at USC’s Rehab Lab. (Photo courtesy of The Rehab Lab at the University of South Carolina/Carolina News and Reporter)

More than 1 million Americans are living with an invisible, chronic disease that affects every part of their lives.

March is a month dedicated to telling their story. 

Fundraising events are popular ways to do that. The best attended in South Carolina are the Walk MS, hosted by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in April.

Some fundraising options are available before this month’s MS awareness month ends. That includes a mixer held by FoodArt Catering in Charleston on March 28.

The events help increase an awareness of symptoms so doctors can diagnose as early as they can, to help avoid a rapid nerve deterioration.

“The degenerative disease impacts the central nervous system,” said Dr. Alicia Flach, a board-certified MS clinical specialist and clinical associate professor at the University of South Carolina.

Flach is conducting a research study that identifies aspects of MS related to fall risk. 

The abnormal response of the body’s immune system causes damage and scarring to nerve tissue. The damage can result in lesions in the brain that affect balance, vision and other functions.

But MS doesn’t look the same in everyone.  

Symptoms of MS can be severely debilitating. Extreme fatigue, mobility challenges, cognitive changes and vision issues are the most common. The onset typically begins between the ages of 20 and 50. 

Some people remain relatively symptom-free, while others may have chronic problems.

The MS society has been a driving force in funding research – investing more than $1 billion.

While several treatments exist, there is no known cure for the 2.8 million people living with the disease worldwide.

Flach said a common misconception of MS is that it primarily happens to young white women. 

“I think there are huge racial disparities and people getting diagnosed in a timely manner if they’re someone of color and if they’re male,” Flach said. “It’s a misconception that it only impacts a certain demographic.” 

Bryce Gussin, the chef and owner of FoodArt Catering, said breaking that misconception barrier requires active participation.

FoodArt Catering partnered with a venue to host the company’s first-ever charitable event honoring MS Awareness Month. 

“We figured if we’re going to come together on a business project, why not have it be for a good cause?” Gussin said. 

Along with food, drinks and music, Lindsey Holcomb, an artist from Oregon who has MS and is the founder of #ColorsofMS, will have her artwork raffled. 

Most notably, she paints brain MRIs of MS patients. 

“We’re also selecting a member of the community to receive a portion of the proceeds directly,” Gussin said. “A little bit going directly to the person who’s being affected as opposed to the larger organization tends to have more of an impact.” 

Though the event will be held in Charleston, Gussin said anyone in South Carolina can enter virtually to win. 

“They just have to write to us,” Gussin said. “… We know with MS being so debilitating that can be hard sometimes. Whether they’re able to show or not, whoever we choose, we’re going to be sending a portion of the proceeds.”

The fundraiser will take place March 28 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

To learn more about the symptoms of MS, risk factors and fundraisers, visit https://www.nationalmssociety.org/.

Flach is actively recruiting participants for a research study. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Alicia Flach/Carolina News and Reporter)

FoodArt Catering promotes its fundraiser on social media. (Photo courtesy of FoodArt Catering/Carolina News and Reporter)

Lindsey Holcomb transforms diagnostic MRIs into a vivid painting alongside sharing patient journeys and advice on social media. (Photo courtesy of Tualatin Valley Creates/Carolina News and Reporter)