Siblings Matthew and Courtney Wooten, who both have multiple sclerosis, and their mother, Kimberle Wooten, plan to hold a St. Patrick’s Day fundraiser March 17 to benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society at the family’s restaurant, The Sweetwater Cafe.
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Matthew, 29, who was diagnosed at 17 years old, was one of the youngest male patients ever diagnosed with MS in the state of California, and Courtney, 28, was diagnosed 14 months later also at the young age of 17, Kimberle said.
“It’s a disease that attacks the central nervous system,” said Christine Grontkowski, community development manager overseeing the Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys at the National MS Society. “A person’s own immune system attacks anywhere from the brain down the spinal cord and you get multiple lesions in different areas of your central nervous system.”
Symptoms are caused by the disruption of the flow of information within the brain, as well as between the brain and body, and vary from person to person because the lesions can appear in any area of the central nervous system, causing numbness, tingling, blindness, paralysis, extreme fatigue and other symptoms, she said.
The National MS Society’s official stance on the prognosis of MS is that it is not fatal, but it can dramatically reduce one’s quality of life. While there is no cure for MS, it’s something people can live with because symptoms vary, National MS Society officials said.
Matthew’s form of MS has resulted in paralysis of his face and cognitive speech, while Courtney is affected with blindness in one eye and weakness in her left leg, Kimberle said.
“MS causes exhaustion daily; it’s an extremely tiring disease,” she said. “Each of them has different symptoms that it affects. But it never stops them, in my opinion.”
Matthew co-owns the Sweetwater Cafe with Kimberle, while Courtney works in the human resources department at an aerospace manufacturing company in addition to being a third-year psych major at the University of Phoenix.
Both participate in the National MS Society’s fundraising walk every year, and 20 percent of all proceeds from the Sweetwater Cafe fundraiser will go to the National MS Society’s walk in May, Kimberle said. Servers will also be donating tips to the MS Foundation.
“They (Matthew and Courtney) have absolutely been heroes in my life the way they’ve conducted themselves and the way they reach out beyond what is happening with them to benefit so many people,” Kimberle said. “I’m just really proud of both of them.”
While raising money for local programs and research is extremely important, raising awareness about MS, especially in the Santa Clarita Valley, is also vital to help advance the cause, Grontkowski said.
The St. Patrick’s Day fundraiser is scheduled to take place from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., with Irish dinner specials cooked by Matthew starting at 5 p.m., Monday at the Sweetwater Cafe, located at 33308 Agua Dulce Canyon Road in Santa Clarita.
Reservations are recommended by the restaurant. To make a reservation, call the Sweetwater Cafe at 661-268-1213.
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