A lasting legacy for MS
Date: November 21, 2011
Being diagnosed with any progressive neurological disease can be a complex and baffling experience for patients, but multiple sclerosis (MS) can be one of the hardest for patients to grasp. Thought to occur when an overactive immune system attacks the brain and spinal cord, MS prompts an extraordinary array of symptoms—affecting anything from thinking to mobility to mood—any of which might affect a given patient unpredictably at any time. Treatments have changed substantially over the last decade, and they continue to evolve at a dizzying pace.
All together, learning the particulars of the disease and the unique approach to each patient’s treatment can be an experience in information overload. That’s why MS nurses are pivotal to patients successfully navigating their new world—and Molly Kunkel was one of the best. A registered nurse who cared for patients with MS and a related disease called transverse myelitis, Kunkel played a crucial role in educating patients about their conditions, steering them toward pharmaceuticals, rehabilitation and other treatment options, and helping families understand and better assist their loved ones. It was an incredible blow to both patients and Hopkins when Kunkel died of cancer in 2007, says Kathleen Costello, a nurse practitioner and research associate at the Johns Hopkins MS Center.
But Kunkel’s gift to MS nursing didn’t end with her untimely death. A nearly $120,000 gift from her family and other donors started the Molly O. Kunkel Nursing Fund in 2007 to help other nurses achieve the same ambitious goals in caring for MS patients that Kunkel had.
“MS nursing is not taught as a course in school,” Costello says. The education she and her colleagues receive, she explains, comes from continuing education credits and attending meetings and conferences. Most of these opportunities take place far from Hopkins’ campus, adding travel and lodging costs.
The gift from Kunkel’s family has allowed Hopkins MS nurses to keep their training current by attending annual meetings of the Consortium of MS Centers, a professional organization for MS health care providers and researchers in North America. Last June, all five Hopkins MS nurses were able to attend the one-week meeting, which took place in San Antonio.
“The funding we receive helps us to become better educated and also to educate our patients and their family members,” Costello says.
In the future, she adds, she and her colleagues hope that additional funding might make it possible to extend training beyond the small core of MS nurses to provide continuing education for their colleagues in other disciplines who play important parts in complete MS care, such as physical therapists, speech therapists and social workers.
“We’re creating a lasting legacy that will benefit our MS patients now and in the future,” Costello says.
For information: 410-955-4504