GROTON — If “music has charms to soothe a savage breast,” as William Congreve wrote, then Donna Picariello hopes it can also help find a cure for multiple sclerosis.
Picariello, who has lived with the disease for decades, is planning to hold her first fundraiser with performances by local musicians Aug. 8 at the Indian Hill Music Center in Littleton.
“I decided to hold a benefit because it’s my 32nd anniversary with the disease and the 50th year of my brother’s death from complications of the same thing,” said the Riverbend Drive resident.
“I’m putting up fliers everywhere and trying to tap into newspapers to get the word out,” she said. “All the musicians at the music center are putting them out, too, and sending them to their friends. I’ve had a number of offers so far by people wanting to play at the benefit. It’s going to be a musical show, and there will be bands as well as soloists as well as pianists.”
In addition to the donation of the use of Indian Hill’s performance hall, the facility has also lent her the expertise of its graphic designer to create posters and an audio engineer to help make the performancesas sharp as they can be, Picariello said.
“I study the piano at Indian Hill myself, and when I asked the director, Michael Havey, if I could hold a fundraiser at the music center with all the proceeds going to the Central New England Multiple Sclerosis Society, he offered to let me use the hall for free,” said Picariello .
Picariello so far has lined up jazz pianist Elliot Steger; Dennis Pacy and his easy listening band; classical pianist Michelle Kelley; opera singer Nancy Howells; Gary Wilson and his blues band; a popular local funk rock band named Persuasion; and Suede, a band that includes Picariello ‘s daughter, Kelsey Whalen, as vocalist.
Picariello said other local businesses will also be contributing to the effort, including Donelan’s Supermarkets which has donated food, and Webber’s Florist of Littleton, which is donating 32 orange balloons to decorate the hall.
“I’m hoping that many, many people will attend because it’s really going to be a musical extravaganza,” Picariello said. “All of the musicians are committed to making it the best show they can.”
But as entertaining a night that the benefit promises to provide, Picariello is anxious not to lose sight of its larger goal: the fight against a crippling disease that affects many people across the country.
“Multiple sclerosis is one of those diseases that a person usually gets in their early 20s,” said Picariello, who was first diagnosed with it at age 25. “Furthermore, every single person who has the disease is different. They don’t all suffer the same way. Some can’t walk; some need a walker; some need a wheelchair like myself; some have slurred speech and cognitive problems; and some have none of those problems.”
According to Picariello, there are more than 400,000 cases of multiple sclerosis in the United States and 13,000 in Massachusetts and New Hampshire alone.
“You never get used to MS, because just when you’re getting comfortable with it, it rears its ugly head,” Picariello said. “A therapist once described it as being like a thief. For example, one time I had a major exacerbation that forced me to go to rehab. That time, I lost full use of my left hand, and I play the piano! That made things a little tricky. I’ve been fighting to get full use of my hand back ever since. Another time, I lost vision in one of my eyes. So you never get used to it.”
Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable disease of the central nervous system whose effects can range from relatively benign to disabling to devastating as communication between the brain and other parts of the body is disrupted.
Most people experience their first symptoms of MS between the ages of 20 and 40, with blurred or double vision, or red-green color distortion, or outright blindness in one eye as initial symptoms. Most MS sufferers experience muscle weakness in their extremities and difficulty with coordination and balance.
In the worst cases, the disease can produce partial or complete paralysis. In other instances, there can also be feelings of temporary numbness or prickling, even outright pain. Speech impediments, tremors, and dizziness are also associated with MS.
About half of all those with MS experience cognitive impairments such as difficulties with concentration, attention, memory, and poor judgment. Naturally, sufferers can often struggle with feelings of depression.
Although there is yet no cure for multiple sclerosis, there has been some progress in controlling its effects using various medicinal treatments.
“When I first got it, there was nothing that could be done,” recalled Picariello. “CT scans hadn’t been invented; MRI’s hadn’t been invented. So it was a guessing game as to what I had. Now, they have different ways of diagnosing you. They have different ways to treat people but nothing yet that can eradicate the disease, and that’s the ultimate goal. They don’t even know how it is transferred from generation to generation. I have two children and have no way of knowing if either will get it or neither. Of course, I’m hoping for the latter.”
Among Picariello’s past efforts to raise money to find a cure for MS was a Concord walkathon she participated in last spring. She raised $1,500.
She hopes to exceed that amount with her very own fundraiser next month. The event will take place at Indian Hill Music Center from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tickets are $10. Those who simply wish to make a donation or buy a ticket in advance, can send a check to Donna Picarillo at 307 Riverbend Drive, Groton, MA, 01450 made out to the Central New England MS Society.
Picariello expressed every confidence in the Indian Hill affair.
“I’ll probably start planning my next fundraiser,” Picariello said. “It’ll be something different though.”
In the meantime, Picariello stressed the ubiquity of multiple sclerosis and urgency in at last finding a cure, if not for herself, then for neighbors and friends who also suffer from it.
“Everywhere I go, I find people who suffer from MS,” Picariello said. “A lot of the musicians participating in the benefit have relatives with the disease. In fact, even some of my neighbors have it. Multiple sclerosis strikes closer to home than people like to think.”