Matt Caplan, of West Bloomfield, has multiple sclerosis and vice-chairs the Michigan office of the National MS Society, which organizes Walk MS Detroit. Caplan’s team, Team FAMS, was a top fundraiser at the April 13 event.

Matt Caplan, of West Bloomfield, has multiple sclerosis and vice-chairs the Michigan office of the National MS Society, which organizes Walk MS Detroit. Caplan’s team, Team FAMS, was a top fundraiser at the April 13 event.

Photo provided by Matt Caplan


West Bloomfield resident with MS takes to the streets

Local team raises $70,000 at Walk MS Detroit

By: Andy Kozlowski | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published April 25, 2019

 Walk MS Detroit took place at Comerica Park and saw around 3,000 people show up to raise money for research into a treatment and cure for MS.

Walk MS Detroit took place at Comerica Park and saw around 3,000 people show up to raise money for research into a treatment and cure for MS.

Photo provided by Matt Caplan

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WEST BLOOMFIELD — A West Bloomfield man with multiple sclerosis and his team of four families affected by the disease raised $70,000 for the Walk MS event at Comerica Park in Detroit April 13, making them the top fundraising team.

“There are breakthroughs being made every day due to the ongoing research funded by charities like the National MS Society, which is why fundraising is so important,” said Matt Caplan, 49, a family law attorney who was diagnosed with MS in 2009.

“When I was diagnosed, there were approximately six medications available, and now there are 13. I believe a cure is not only attainable, but that it will happen in my lifetime.”

His team, which comprises more than 100 members, is called FAMS — Families Fighting Against MS. The goal of the event, organized by the National MS Society, was not only to raise money for research into treatments and cures, but also to raise awareness for MS, an unpredictable and often disabling disease of the central nervous system that can strike anyone at any time.

The symptoms vary from person to person, ranging from numbness and tingling to difficulties walking, fatigue, dizziness, pain, depression, blindness and paralysis. For Caplan, it started with what he thought was a pinched nerve. Stress and heat can trigger symptoms and cause relapses, so people with MS often have to change their lifestyle — working out but not as intensely, for example, or switching to a healthier diet.

A recent study on the prevalence of MS, conducted by the National MS Society and published in the Feb. 15 issue of Neurology — a medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology — confirmed that nearly 1 million people in the U.S. live with MS, which is more than twice as many as previously thought.

For Walk MS in Detroit, an estimated 3,000 people showed up. Caplan has been participating since 2015, when his son led the way, and has participated every year since. His team led all teams in Michigan this year in terms of fundraising dollars.

Across the nation, the Walk MS events have grown tremendously, starting in 1988 with a combined 42,000 participants across 42 sites raising nearly $4 million, and swelling to nearly 300,000 participants and volunteers at close to 400 locations today, surpassing $1 billion in 2017.

This makes Walk MS the 10th-largest nonprofit walk series in the U.S. and the 13th-largest nonprofit event in the U.S. Three of four walkers are women, the majority ages 25-54, and more than 90 percent of participants have a connection to MS.

Julie Hirsch co-captained the Walk MS team with Caplan. She is the vice president of FAMS. Her daughter Stacey, 17, a junior at Bloomfield Hills High School, was diagnosed with MS her freshman year. Hirsch and Caplan have known each other since 1986, when they were in high school together, and she found out about Caplan’s diagnosis after her daughter’s.

“I reached out to (Caplan), who immediately offered to meet with Stacey and me to discuss his journey with MS. That first meeting was pivotal for both Stacey and myself,” Hirsch said. “MS is scary enough. Your body is constantly changing and doing things you can’t understand. Even though the doctors can give answers, they are not personally experiencing the side effects. Having Matt there to answer our questions with firsthand knowledge was invaluable.”

Caplan quickly involved Hirsch in his Walk MS team, originally called Cappy’s Crew, and after two years of participating, they formed a new team together, Team FAMS.

“Matt is passionate about helping others living with MS,” Hirsch said. “I am proud to call him my friend and co-captain.”

Caplan, who is also the vice chair of the Michigan office of the National MS Society, said that he tried a variety of medications over the years to control the symptoms. When an MRI scan revealed lesions on his brain consistent with MS, he was immediately put on infusion steroid treatments, following which he tried Avonex — an intramuscular shot taken weekly — but this resulted in flu-like symptoms for 24 hours each week. He then switched to Tecfidera three years ago, which has been working with limited side effects. He still suffers from extreme fatigue, poor balance, heat sensitivity, tingling, spasms, muscle and joint pain, body aches and numbness.

“There are periods of calm, which are followed by periods of flare-ups or exacerbation,” he said. “Heat and stress do trigger the onset of my symptoms, so I try to control those variables.”

In controlling his stress levels, he said he has learned to be more patient and to not let the small things bother him. He has worked hard to improve his communication and relationships, and he has also turned to his faith in God for inspiration and hope.

“My faith has given me strength through prayer,” Caplan said.

He also works out at the gym three times a week, which not only relieves stress but helps counteract defects in his nervous system by building strength through increasing muscle mass. Exercise also helps improve his balance. This, along with giving up processed foods in favor of lean proteins and fresh fruits and vegetables, has led to an overall sense of well-being and increased energy levels, he said.

He said it’s important for people with MS to know that it is manageable.

“MS is not a death sentence. It is not contagious. You can live a productive life, but many need to use some restraint in tackling certain activities,” Caplan said. The symptoms, he said, are “treatable, but there are good days and bad. … People with MS are going to struggle, and they need support — but there is nothing they cannot overcome with love and understanding.”

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