FARGO — As someone with a compromised immune system facing her 20th year of dealing with multiple sclerosis, Sheri Paulson worried about getting COVID-19.
In late August, despite taking precautions, Paulson’s fears were realized when she and her entire family contracted it, and she ended up in the hospital.
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Seven weeks later, Paulson is still dealing with heart rhythm issues caused by COVID-19, but feels fortunate considering two of her friends with MS died from the virus.
Paulson, of Galesburg, N.D., invites everyone to take part in the Little Black Dress for MS event, which raises money for research and support of patients with multiple sclerosis — a chronic, unpredictable disease of the central nervous system.
She was the keynote speaker at the event last year and posed for pictures with friend Susie Simmers, who was the first person she met with MS following her own diagnosis. Paulson describes Simmers as a daily source of strength.
"Despite her challenges, her smile is always so uplifting," Paulson said of her friend.
The Fargo event, typically a luncheon, will be held Friday, Oct. 23 as an online fundraiser due to the pandemic. It will be livestreamed on Facebook from noon to 1 p.m. that day, followed by a weeklong silent auction.
“I am hoping others will help me honor my friends and participate in our virtual event,” Paulson said.
Nonprofits nationwide are struggling to raise funds in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and the National MS Society is no exception.
Kathleen O'Donnell, president of the Upper Midwest Chapter, said many research projects and clinical trials related to treatments for the disease have had to be put on hold.
The National MS Society faced a $60 million deficit when the pandemic hit, she said, projecting ahead to the events it usually holds in person all over the country that would have to be canceled or done virtually.
The nonprofit had to come up with a contingency budget, making multiple rounds of cuts to staff and to other expenses, O’Donnell said.
But people with multiple sclerosis need the support now, more than ever.
“Isolation is a big deal... and people who are immunocompromised are even more challenged during a time like COVID,” O’Donnell said.
The MS Society has been able to hold Walk MS events virtually, with strong participation from people who’ve put in miles on their own time.
The organization also developed a platform called Bike MS: Inside Out where people can ride any way they want, keep track of miles and compete with others.
Staging the Little Black Dress event online brings logistical challenges, and it wouldn’t happen without community support.
“Going digital or virtual wouldn't do anything if we didn't have the relationships on the ground, keeping the movement strong and keeping it alive,” O’Donnell said.
The virtual experience Friday on Facebook includes a keynote address by MS advocate Maureen Kenney and musical performances by Michael J. Olsen and daughter Randi Kay Olsen Heinold, along with Kate Henne, known as “Dakota Kate.”
A live raffle will take place for a "Baker's Delight" KitchenAid mixer and other items, and a week-long silent auction will include items such as a four-day retreat on Big Pelican Lake, Bison game day baskets, wine and liquor baskets, photography sessions and home décor.