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World MS Day 2021 hopes to highlight the challenges facing those living with Multiple Sclerosis, with one Clare woman stressing her own difficulties in returning to physical activity outdoors.
This year, a total of 9,000 individuals living with the chronic neurological condition in Ireland will be looking to return to regular essential activity outdoors, with physical distancing in confined spaces a serious challenge that many are facing.

Retired nurse Margaret Lohan Gunning acknowledged the impact that MS has on one’s life, forcing them to rethink their life goals and expectations. Diagnosed with Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (SPMS) after moving to Ennis in 1995, the former New York City nurse knew the signs and symptoms before they began to have an effect on her daily life but asserted that an early diagnosis is essential in preventing exacerbations and slowing down the condition.

“During COVID, I didn’t go out that much. If you had assisted devices during the pandemic, you had to keep your hands clean. But you also had to keep the stick clean and the rollator also. That was an added challenge. It’s very important for people with MS to have physical activity. My physical activity in the past consisted of short walks outside, face to face physiotherapy or yoga also. That was certainly all gone,” the Galway native stated.

This year’s theme for World MS Day, celebrated on Sunday May 30, explores connections and the challenging of social stigma barriers by promoting a sense of community to transcend social isolation and feelings of loneliness. Margaret championed the work of local MS services and community members in Clare over the lockdown, where networking and chat groups facilitated online yoga, meditation and physiotherapy programmes. “Some did not have the required technology within the MS community and have missed out on this valuable time,” she conceded.

Receiving her first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine at the West County Hotel in early May was a point of pride for Margaret. Despite this positive, she is slightly dismayed at the three month wait required for her second dose and like many with SPMS, a relapsing-remitting phase of the disease where individuals are not deemed in a “vulnerable category”, is still scared of contracting the virus while out pursuing her daily exercise.

“World MS highlights the condition and the limitations we have. If they see us walking with a stick, that they would help and stay out of our way. I’ve been pushing for some time now for a safe walk to be put up in Lees Road in Ennis for people with rollators or sticks. If there are runners, cyclers or walkers up there, you get really nervous. Even if there was a 100-yard space where you could walk up and down, undistracted. That is something I would like to see,” she concluded.

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