Two models on a runway

Runway Show Helps West Michigan Multiple Sclerosis Patients

Kim VanOeffelen was a busy mom and business owner when she started experiencing balance and short-term memory issues in 2007.

After an MRI showed lesions on her brain, multiple sclerosis was discussed as a possible cause.

“That was just a huge blow when they started using those words and that diagnosis,” she said.

She was referred to Dr. Christopher Glisson at Mercy Health’s Hauenstein Neurosciences after rejecting the diagnosis from two other specialists. She admits to a “bit of an attitude,” but was quickly won over by Glisson’s optimistic and proactive approach to treatment. Whereas others had wanted her to exhibit more symptoms before she started a course of therapy, Glisson worked with VanOeffelen to determine that she wanted to fight.

After undergoing shots for many years, she’s been taking oral medication for the past three and said her condition is very stable. Her balance is still a little off and she’s had to slow down the busy pace of her life – she sold her salon in 2014 – but ultimately she is well and owes that to Glisson and staff at Mercy Health.

“The whole team there is amazing,” she said.

Alyssa Locke with Kim VanOeffelen.

Alyssa Locke, left, with Kim VanOeffelen.

Not long after her diagnosis, VanOeffelen was talked into starting a runway fashion show by the women she worked with at her salon, including pal Alyssa Locke, who had experience putting together similar events. Despite initial reservations, she was sold on the idea knowing that the event and its proceeds would raise awareness and funds for multiple sclerosis and related research.

“We were very fashion-conscious and that’s kind of how it all started,” she said.

The event grew year after year and was eventually folded into fundraising events put on by Mercy Health, which took over the entity in 2014 and renamed it Runway on the Rapids. This year’s show will take place on Friday, April 21 at 7 p.m. at the JW Marriott in downtown Grand Rapids. The event benefits the multiple sclerosis program at Mercy Health Hauenstein Neurosciences, specifically holistic support services for patients such as pet-assisted therapy, massage, acupuncture, and spiritual care.

“Having funds available for those who need this assures they receive the best medical and holistic approach to care,” VanOeffelen said.

Local boutiques are lending clothes, salons are volunteering their services and models are also strutting the catwalk free of charge to contribute to the cause. VanOeffelen said the high-energy event is always a lot of fun and the looks, including a high-fashion finale, are worth checking out.

As for VanOeffelen, the fashion show has been an important part of accepting her disease. As a hairdresser, her job was always to find out about her clients’ lives, so opening the curtain on her own personal struggles was a big step. Finding a way to give back has helped her accept and own it.

“This is my new normal,” she said.

Facts about Multiple Sclerosis from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society:

  • Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and body.
  • The cause is unknown and thought to affect more than 2.3 million people worldwide.
  • MS is not contagious or directly inherited, although epidemiologists have identified factors in the distribution of the disease around the world that may eventually help determine what causes it.

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Photos courtesy of Mercy Health Hauenstein Neurosciences

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