When you think of the number 5, a host of things could come to mind.
For Dannyell “Dannie” Mitchell, it’s symbolic of how many years she’s been living with multiple sclerosis, a chronic, progressive disease that damages nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
I introduced Dannie in my column around this same time last year, telling you about how she literally stumbled upon her diagnosis; about how she dove in “head, feet, and arms” first to learn and teach about MS, and survive her symptoms; about how she, an engineer, found herself unemployed and without health insurance.
Although Dannie still has MS, her story is a little different this year. She’s turned 40 and she’s working as a sales engineer. She also has health insurance now, “rectified by the Affordable Care Act,” she said.
“I’m actually doing really well,” said Dannie, a wife and mother of two daughters, Josee, 16, and Jada, 11. “I’ve taken some of my time back to put into myself. I’m back on a regular exercise routine, my diet has improved.”
Across the country, March 3-9 is MS Awareness Week, a rallying prelude to the 2014 Walk MS – Triangle April 5 at PNC Arena.
“I’m super excited because this year marks my 5-year anniversary living with MS and the Walk this year will be held on the 5th of April, so apparently FIVE is my magic number,” Dannie said in emails to family, friends and supporters to announce plans for this year’s walk.
Worldwide, more than 2.3 million are affected by MS. The Greater Carolinas Chapter of the National MS Society serves about 17,000 people living with MS and their families in North Carolina and South Carolina, said Monica Tierney, development manager of the Greater Carolinas Chapter.
Once again this year, Dannie got a head start with her fundraising campaign for Dannie’s Dolls, the name of her Walk MS teams here and in Maryland, her home state.
“The importance of what Dannyell is doing ahead of MS Awareness Week and the MS Walk cannot be overstated,” said Jeff Furst, president of the Greater Carolinas Chapter. “It is people like Dannyell who make a real difference in our community – and the world.”
It makes a difference in Dannie’s world, too, her oldest daughter, Josee, 16, said.
“I think it makes her feel better,” said Josee, a junior at Wake Christian Academy. “I like doing walks, too. I like seeing my mom happy when we do it and, even though it’s a lot of work, it’s worth it.”
Last year’s Dannie’s Dolls team was her biggest Raleigh walk team ever. This year?
“At this stage, we are further than we have been at any point this early in the walk season,” Dannie said. “Everything is lining up with the No. 5. This really means something, so I’m really excited this Walk season.
“We’re trying to get as much awareness out there and get everybody involved.”
• Dannie’s Put Five on It campaign asked supporters to donate $5 in honor of her 5th anniversary. Many donated $5 per day for a week or two, bringing some individual donations to $25-$50.
• On March 5, Dannie will close out a 50-50 Raffle at 5:55 p.m.
• In addition to an ongoing social media awareness campaign, Dannie will introduce a blog to provide facts about MS, and dispel myths.
• The week before Walk MS-Triangle, Dannie’s friend of 20 years, Greensboro handbag designer Krystal Ellison of KLE Handbags will unveil an exclusive clutch bag designed in Dannie’s honor and with her input.
The clutch is orange in honor of the MS society. Its name: Five. A portion of sales proceeds will go to Dannie’s Dolls’ MS Walk.
“She been a big trooper,” Ellison said. “I love the fact she’s not hiding from her disease and she wants to help educate others. This is an opportunity to celebrate during her journey with MS.”
Dannie’s Dolls will be among the largest MS walks in the southeast region, based on the number of participants and volunteers and the amount of money raised at the Triangle event. Generally, about 2,500 to 3,500 people register for the walk. Weather permitting, as many as 4,500 to 5,000 show up, Tierney said. Ninety-four percent of them have a direct connection to MS, she added.
The goal for this year’s walk is $1.3 million, Tierney said. Last year’s walk netted nearly $1.1 million.
Money raised from Walk MS feeds coffers that fund research and services that directly impact people aided by the Greater Carolinas Chapter, Tierney said.