FEATURE: MS Society offers a friendly hand in Bury

Feature on the MS Society in Bury. ''Pictured: Debbie Cant, Karl Smith and Elaine Tant ANL-140311-160555009
Feature on the MS Society in Bury. ''Pictured: Debbie Cant, Karl Smith and Elaine Tant ANL-140311-160555009
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As the Bury St Edmunds branch of the MS Society celebrates raising £2,344 so far this year, its chairman, who suffers from the debilitating illness, has heaped praise on its services.

Karl Smith and his family had their world turned upside-down when he received the ‘earth-shattering’ news that he had MS, a disease which causes the immune system to deteriorate and affects physical and cognitive function, in November 1994.

The former detective inspector said his wife and two young daughters found the news hard to handle.

He said: “My family found it tough. I had a difficult spell at the beginning, I was a very fit young man and to be diagnosed was earth-shattering.”

Despite losing strength in the left side of his body and having some problems with balance, Karl considers himself one of the lucky ones.

“As I have got back into work and my life, and been able to get on with things as I used to, my family have realised it is not the end of the world for me. That has always been my view,” he said.

Karl’s outlook has broadened further since he joined the Bury branch of the MS Society, which offers support and advice to around 170 members, when he retired two and half years ago.

“I know lots of people with MS, some of whom have quite significant disabilities, and I have huge admiration for them,” he said.

“I always admire how they look upon life and their own situation. They get on with the cards they have been dealt in a remarkable way.

“I know people value the society greatly. We all have our own little difficulties and challenges, so it is nice to share those with people who have thoughts or ideas you may not have considered before.”

Karl said every suffer would have a different experience of the degenerative condition, for which there is currently no known cure.

“It affects different people in different ways, some more than others,” he said.

“It primarily hits young people, in their 20s and 30s, but there is no definite age.

“Everyone has a recollection of the day they were told. We all have a story to tell.”

Karl said he went to his GP after suffering with light-headedness, which was first diagnosed as something else. His symptoms persisted so he returned to his GP, who enquired into his family history.

“My grandfather had MS, so she made a note of that then and sent me for an MRI scan at Addenbrooke’s,” he said.

“Medically, there was not a great deal available. I raised the money for a new private treatment, now widely available as a first line treatment.”

Police officer of 30 years Karl praised Suffolk Police for its attitude towards his illness.

“They were excellent, they made adjustments for me and I ended up becoming a detective inspector,” he said.

“As a result of that I found myself doing some quite significant things. I suppose I have been lucky to be well enough to do what I’ve done.”

Karl said he was pleased to have been made chairman of the MS Society’s Bury branch, which has been running for nearly 30 years and supports sufferers in Bury, Thetford, Mildenhall and Brandon.

Its members fund-raise together and meet for monthly coffee mornings in Bury and Brandon. It also recently had an information stand in the arc, which Karl believes was very successful.

“It is not a rare condition by a long chalk,” he said. “Lots of people have a connection with MS and we have always found them to be very generous when we do any fund-raising.”

The self-funded society can offer grants to help members improve access in their homes or get specially adapted vehicles and also has a close relationship with the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, who provide further support to members.

Karl, a trumpet player in the Bury St Edmunds Concert Band, is preparing to give MS Awareness presentations at local Rotary Clubs and WIs to dispell some common misconceptions about the disease.

The branch is in need of more fund-raising ideas and volunteers, including a communications volunteer. For more information or if you are interested in volunteering call 01284 723110.