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Bank employees will walk for co-worker with multiple sclerosis

Gail Jones, far left, was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Co-workers like Vicki Jenkins, Aimee Ford, Tiffany Sacco and Maybel Fernandez wanted to help.

Special to the Times

Gail Jones, far left, was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Co-workers like Vicki Jenkins, Aimee Ford, Tiffany Sacco and Maybel Fernandez wanted to help.

Gail Jones sat at her desk at Hillsboro Bank in Valrico when the tellers called out to her.

Jones, an assistant manager, walked back to the teller line thinking, "Am I in trouble?"

"She was like, 'What? What did y'all do?' " head teller Tiffany Sacco recalled recently.

It wasn't anything the tellers had done, but rather what they planned to do.

Just days after doctors diagnosed Jones with multiple sclerosis in December, the tellers and other bank employees rallied behind their friend, telling her they would raise money for the MS Society's Mid-Florida Chapter.

On Saturday, nearly 20 of Jones' colleagues from the branch on Bloomingdale Avenue and the location in Plant City will gather at Lowry Park Zoo for Walk MS. Through solicitation letters, bake sales and donations, the group has raised nearly $2,000 to fund research to eradicate the disease.

Of course, they also raised awareness and Jones' spirits.

"It was very nice of them to do that," Jones said. "I might have done the walk on my own, but I would have never expected them to do this.

"It's heartwarming."

Jones, 50, began suffering blurred vision around Thanksgiving and first thought she had an eye infection. An eye specialist told her he suspected MS, a chronic and frequently disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system.

The specialist immediately referred Jones to a neurologist for an MRI.

"I had a little meltdown while I was on the phone with my husband (Jeremiah) trying to find the neurologist," Jones said. "Of course, I was a little upset because it (the diagnosis) wasn't what I expected."

Jones had to relay word to the bank about the tests and treatment, which began with five daily injections of steroids to treat what doctors termed optic neurosis. She was pleased understanding bosses and co-workers didn't give her any grief about missing time from work. But she didn't think the kindness would go beyond that.

Sacco said as soon as she learned of the diagnosis, she began researching how the bank staff could help. She ultimately struck upon Walk MS and the idea of having employees wear orange T-shirts and wristbands.

"We can't help with medications and stuff like that, but we can help by trying to find a cure," Sacco said.

On Fridays, the employees were allowed to wear jeans with their T-shirts if they made a $5 donation toward the cause.

"I think that's one of the best things about our bank, is that our employees care about each other," said Pam Warnock, the bank's senior vice president. "We're a family and when someone in your family is down, you want to help. It was neat to see them get so excited about doing something for someone else."

Relatively healthy during most of her life, doctors told Jones they didn't know how long she had MS. Jones said she may have experienced milder symptoms and mistakenly attributed them to age.

"I just didn't know because I'm getting old," she said, laughing.

Jones' upbeat nature makes it easy to understand why her co-workers seem so interested in helping. Saying she just has to go about her business and not dwell on her condition, Jones' courage inspires admiration.

Having attended the MS Walk in years past, I know the event is a display of that admiration from the community. Jones and I joked that the brief stroll around Lowry Park can't compare to the 22-mile treks we endured for those infamous March of Dimes Walkathons.

Yet the comfort she and other MS patients will draw from the symbolic sign of support can't be underestimated.

I imagine that an incurable disease seems like a distant star. You know it's out there, but you don't give it much thought — until it seemingly falls from the sky and lands in your backyard.

It's then that you need your friends the most.

That's all I'm saying.

Bank employees will walk for co-worker with multiple sclerosis 03/25/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:47pm]
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