About MSAA

As a national nonprofit organization, the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America is a leading resource for the entire MS community, improving lives today through vital services and support. MSAA provides free programs and services, such as: a toll-free Helpline; award-winning publications including a magazine, The Motivator; website featuring educational videos and research updates; S.E.A.R.C.H.™ program to assist the MS community with learning about different treatment choices; a mobile phone app, My MS Manager™; a resource database, My MS Resource Locator; equipment distribution ranging from grab bars to wheelchairs; cooling accessories for heat-sensitive individuals; educational events and activities; MRI funding and insurance advocacy; and more. For additional information, please visit http://www.mymsaa.org or call (800) 532-7667.

Just Take It One Step at a Time- Part 1

By: Amy McKay, M Ed, CSCS, CES

When was the last time that you actually stopped and thought about the process of walking? Did you know that you could actually improve the efficiency and effectiveness of each step you take with a few simple changes? Put your best foot forward as we explore ways to create a great gait pattern.

Efficient walking starts with your brain. Begin to start thinking about walking. Walking is a complex motor skill. It involves balance, coordination, flexibility, and torso stability. As we stop and study each of these topics, I will provide a few useful tips on how to improve each part of every step you take.

BALANCE

Balance is a very important part of walking. With each step taken, there is a brief moment of balance on the foot that is in contact with the ground. Balance is a skill related component of fitness and can be improved with practice. Balance is defined as an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady. When balance skills are compromised, the typical compensation is to shuffle the feet, instead of actually placing one foot in front of the other.

Try adding this simple exercise to your daily life to improve your balance.

  • Practice standing on one foot while brushing your teeth, drying your hair, or working at your kitchen sink. The great thing about practicing this skill while in these locations is that you have the counter right in front of your to provide safety and support when needed. Simply start with 5 to 10 seconds at a time and build up from there. You will find that you are more successful on one side than the other, so be sure to practice BOTH sides.

COORDINATION

Are you one of those people that can walk and chew bubble gum at the same time? That seems to be our society’s check point for coordination. Coordination is defined as the organization of the different elements of a complex body or activity that enables them to work together effectively. Our bodies are complex machines that are made for movement. When they are properly tuned up, all of our daily activities, including walking, happen with less effort and more ease. Activities that cross the midline of the body have been shown to enhance coordination skills. Add these activities to daily routine.

  • Alternate reaching your right hand all the way across the left side of your body, then your left hand across right side. Repeat this movement 10-20 times each side per day. This not only enhances coordination, but also is great for the range of motion in your shoulders.
  • While standing with support nearby, alternate touching your right elbow to your left knee followed by your left elbow to your right knee. Start with just 3 or 4 repetitions on each side and then add more as you begin to feel stronger. This activity can help with your balance, coordination, and can provide stability and flexibility training for your spine.
  • Shake things up and take a dance class or just crank up your favorite tunes and move to the beat. Dancing is a great way to enhance your coordination, improve cognitive function, and is a FUN way to get some exercise!

Check back on Wednesday, March 9th for part 2 of Amy’s Just Take It One Step at a Time post.

*Amy McKay is an Assistant Professor at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas. She is a certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist for the National Strength and Conditioning Association, a certified Corrective Exercise Specialist with the National Association of Sports Medicine, a certified Sports Nutritionist and Specialist in Exercise Therapies with the International Sports Science Association, a certified Personal Trainer with the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, and a Youth Nutrition Specialist with the International Youth Conditioning Association. She is an avid marathoner and tri-athlete. Amy believes that modifying exercise is necessary for everyone and strives to “find a way” for all to be involved. Her personal motto is to make every day “the best day ever!”

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MSAA Celebrates MS Awareness Month

While every day here at MSAA we strive to improve lives today through vital services and support; March is a very important time of the year. MSAA is proud to launch the March is MS Awareness Month campaign. Throughout the month of March, MSAA will heighten awareness around MS symptom and relapse management, dedicating each week to a particular MS symptom or issue.

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Walking Awareness and MS (week of March 7th) – featuring comprehensive information on walking and MS with a newly developed awareness survey, a video provided by Acorda Therapeutics, blog posts by our guest bloggers, and social media posts. Content posted to www.mymsaa.org/walking.

Pseudobulbar Affect (PBA) Awareness (week of March 14th) – featuring MSAA’s new MSi video on PBA with Dr. Kantor, a patient-focused awareness survey, blog and social media posts. Content posted to www.mymsaa.org/pba.

MS Relapse Awareness (week of March 21st) in collaboration with the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation – featuring a newly developed Relapse Awareness Quiz, an updated version of our Understanding and Treating MS Relapses brochure, and blog and social media posts. Content posted to our MS Relapse Resource Center – www.relapses.mymsaa.org.

Have you visited our new website yet?

MSAA recently unveiled our newly redesigned website, MyMSAA.org. With a clean, mobile-friendly design, the new mymsaa.org features enhanced graphic images, links to important topics including MS Symptoms, Treatments, and information specifically for the Newly Diagnosed.

Check out all of the enhancements and features at mymsaa.org and let us know your thoughts!

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Breaking the Chain of Toxic Relationships with MS

By: Matt Cavallo 

I come from a large, close-knit Italian family that lives in a small town about eighteen miles south of Boston. When I was first being diagnosed with MS, my little brother was on a downward spiral into the world of drug addiction. He is only eighteen months younger than me and as a result we have a lot of common friends. During this time, my friends were telling me about his erratic behavior that was putting himself and others in danger. I decided, as the big brother, that I needed to talk to my parents about his condition and as a family we needed to intervene.

The reaction I got from my family was unpredictable. My entire family turned on me. My mom and dad told family, friends, as well as, people at church and at the country club what a horrible person I was. They were spreading lies about me which was turning people in the community against me. My mother eventually wrote a letter to me disowning me from the family.

My family’s public smear campaign deeply impacted me. The stress of being disowned was exacerbating my MS symptoms. In a small town, gossip travels fast. I was uncomfortable going to public places in my hometown because of the stares and judgment that I felt when I ran into former family friends. The problem still remained that my brother’s addiction was progressing and no one was doing anything to stop it. Rather, they were doing everything to enable it.

As my family relationships deteriorated, the tolls on my health were evident. Even though I loved my family enough to tell the truth about my brother, it was apparent that my decision to do so cost me most of my life-long relationships that I had in my hometown. The only way I was going to be able to stop the stress that was killing me was to eliminate these toxic relationships. I had to come to terms with the fact that I had done all that I could do and that their reaction wasn’t about me, rather it was their denial about my brother.

With my family bonds destroyed, so were my ties to my hometown. Jocelyn and I decided to move back to Arizona, where we met during our college years. About that time, my brother’s drug problem had boiled to the surface. He was now an intravenous drug user entering rehab. It was at this time that my mother realized what she had done.

Right before we left for Arizona, she came and apologized. After that, my dad came and apologized, as well. They both claimed that they didn’t know how bad it had gotten with my brother and that they were in denial. They said that they didn’t mean to destroy their relationship with me and pleaded for me to let them back into their lives. I forgave them and let them back into my life and let them establish a relationship with our children.

The broken chains of our family would not be fixed overnight. My brother’s heroin addiction has now taken an emotional and financial toll on my parents. My brother also contracted Hepatitis from sharing dirty needles. During one of his rehab stints in Arizona, he apologized to me for everything that the family did to me in order to protect him. He was broken hearted that I had been cast aside for trying to stop him from destroying his life. He said that I was the only one who ever tried to help him before it was too late.

Working on these toxic relationships has reduced my overall stress level and has been beneficial to my health. While it was hard to cut the ties, the decision to do so has put me in a better place overall. In my case the old adage was true. I loved them so I let them go and the ones who truly loved me returned. The ones who didn’t are no longer a part of my life. As a result, my life is happier, healthier with a greater sense of self-worth than when I was fostering those toxic relationships.

This was adapted from a passage in my second book, 7 Steps to Living Well with a Chronic Illness. It is accompanied by a Toxic Relationship Exercise and strategies for how to reevaluate toxic relationships in your life. If you are interested in my brother’s story you can learn more on my blog.

*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/

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 2016 Improving Lives Benefit

AOM

Wednesday March 30, 2016
The Downtown Club
Philadelphia, PA

MSAA supporters from across the country will be joining us to honor the accomplishments of MSAA champions in the MS community.

Our Honorees:

Susan Russo, MSAA Art Showcase Artist

Douglas G. Franklin, MSAA President & CEO from 1999-2015

For more information about MSAA’s Improving Lives Benefit,
please visit: support.mymsaa.org/benefit


Our Online Auction is Now Open! Register today for pre-bidding.

 Event attendance is not required for this special opportunity.

Click the Online Auction link below to view the packages and register for bidding.

More packages available soon.

live auction

 Auction will close on Wednesday March 30, 2016 at 9:00 PM EST

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Meet New MSAA Guest Blogger Lauren

By: Lauren Kovacs

My name is Lauren Kovacs and I am 41. The stress of moving from California to rural Virginia poked the MS monster for the first time at age 16. My official diagnosis didn’t show up on stage until I was 21.

I was a pediatric patient with optic neuritis. This meant no learning to drive, no depth perception in gymnastic, and crashing into hall walls at school. I was not in a good place, but the MS monster had only stirred.

After nine months, my vision returned. Life went on. I went to college and made the university’s cheer team. MS was never the diagnosis at 16.

I worked part-time, took a full load of classes, and was a college athlete. The summer before my senior year, after a very tiring and hot week at cheer camp, I got sick. I rode home on the floor of the student-athlete van. I unknowingly had poked the monster again.

The next day, I went numb from the neck down. So began my quest for an answer. Some thought it was a virus and others thought I had been dropped in cheerleading camp and had a slip disc. I stumped all the athletic doctors for the university’s athletes. Cool. The best was a civilian doctor who told me I had a stroke and sent me back to campus with muscle relaxers.

I went back to my original neurologist. An MRI and other tests came back showing MS. The doctor told me not to research it. I was sent back to school. Confused, alone, angry, and tired was the casserole I was served. Newly diagnosed and alone, questions swam in my head and some chocolate in hand, as comfort.

I didn’t make it to nationals for UCA and I felt my teammates were more worried about re-doing the routine without me than my devastating diagnosis. Some even accused me of faking in order to skirt practice.

I kept going. I pushed on. I graduated, got a job, and married my sweet heart. I saw a new doctor who put me on Avonex. I had baby boy one. Four months later, I was hit with a horrible flare leaving me numb from the neck down again. After slithering around on the floor with a new baby, IV steroids were prescribed. Life went on. I did Appalachian clogging and was very active. I started figure skating instead to combat the heat.

Baby boy two arrived without any MS issues at all, except my fall down the stairs, which I can blame on MS. He was premature with health issue. A toddler and a sick infant meant stress. I finally changed doctors, after five years, because he refused to prescribe anything, but Avonex. He kept telling me I would get used to it.

The new doctor prescribed Copaxone, not long before we moved to North Carolina. I took Irish dance lessons, once we moved. The two boys were doing well. Heat, fatigue, and stress were manageable. The monster appeared to be contained.

Baby boy number three arrived and that began my slow decent. The monster was waking up. I was able to nurse for eight months. I was thrilled. IV steroids forced me to end that scene. However, they did their job and I changed doctors again. That is five neurological, if you are counting.

I had a new doctor who finally believed three healthy boys and me. Life was good, too smooth really. When my youngest was four, rocks were being thrown onto my path. The Betaseron was no longer working and I began sporting a cane. The monster was fully awake.

No worries, I can adapt, I thought. We took a Disney cruise with friends and when I had trouble walking onto the boat, I knew things were changing. I sat and waited for a cast-member to get a wheelchair. I held back tears, but the cast-member said I would enjoy my trip more. I did, but I felt crushed.

By the time my youngest was in first grade, I used a walker. I was also head cheerleading coach at their school. I was officially handicapped and life was getting tougher.

Here I sit, now. I only use a walker in the house. I crawl on my hands and knees, if I am not steady. I have the kids make dinner and there have been times I instruct from face down on the floor. But, I do it and I fight.

MS is a battle and you must never give in. Being realistic and humor go hand in hand with MS.

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You and Your Neurologist: One of the Most Important Relationships

By: Meagan Freeman

Finding an excellent Neurologist is one of the first things we need to do after diagnosis with MS. It can be very difficult to choose a random name from a list of covered providers from our insurance companies, and without a solid recommendation from someone we know, we often need to take a “test drive.” Patients and providers are much like any relationship we have in life: Some personalities are a perfect blend, and others will never work together. It is incredibly important to seek out a provider who is not only medically competent, but also a good fit for your personality.

I find that some providers are cold and distant, only seeing patients as a disease process. What about the mind? We are so much more than a body. Providers should always see the patient as a mind-body unit, addressing the full scope of chronic illness. Psychological and emotional symptoms are common, and no one should leave an appointment feeling dismissed.

I am a family nurse practitioner, and we are trained from day one to see the humanistic side of medicine, to view the patient as a whole being, rather than the sum of the parts. The body cannot be healed without addressing the spiritual, emotional aspects of the human being. After being diagnosed with MS, I appreciated this manner of teaching more than ever before.

There is an intricate, indivisible connection between the body and the mind, and treating only one while ignoring the other will never prove effective. There is, what we call in medicine, an “emotional overlay,” to almost every physical issue. Whether this means that the condition is purely psychological, or whether the mind is reacting to a physical issue (anxiety, panic attacks, depression,) the mind must always be taken into consideration when treating every patient.

Our society is very quick to assume that modern medicine has all the answers, a secret book of treatments, available only to those who have attended medical school. This magic book contains all of the recipes for treating illness, and is kept hidden, under lock and key. The providers of the world are assumed to have the ability to fix anything, treat anything, and if they do not offer a fix, they are assumed to be withholding treatment intentionally.

I can tell you, this is not the case. One of the most shocking things I learned while transitioning from a registered nurse to a nurse practitioner was the absolute limitation in options we have as providers. We only have a few things to offer, a few laboratory tests, an x-ray or two, a few medications that may or may not be effective. Most medications also go along with an enormous list of potential side effects that have to be taken into consideration. Many prescription medications are not necessary, and can lead to a variety of new problems. The risk versus the benefit of any treatment needs to be considered. Treating physical illness is not only a science, but also an art; and sometimes, providers simply run out of ideas. Every possible treatment option has been exhausted, and there is simply nothing further to offer. I find that patients are shocked when this is the answer. “What do you mean, there is nothing left to do?” Sometimes, the answer is just that, and we are left trying to cope with our “new normal,” whether it is pain, numbness, weakness, or any other symptom.

When you visit your provider, keep in mind that they may not have an answer for every question you have. Your provider is doing their best, I am sure; but the answer “I do not know,” is an acceptable one sometimes. I always trust providers who admit that they do not have an answer, because this is honesty. If your provider says, “Well, if you really want to take something you can try this…” this is code for- “you really do not need this.” Sometimes, in medicine, less is best. The minimalist approach to treatment is wise, and so many patients have been “overtreated” in recent years. Too many medications, wasteful, unnecessary diagnostic testing, and the resulting side effects and anxiety are major issues in medicine currently. Patients and providers need to take a moment and ask themselves, “Is this really a necessary test or treatment?”

Trust your body to be able to handle most minor issues. Your body is an intricate, well-constructed, dynamic machine that is much wiser than we are as health providers. Now and then, the body might need an extra hand at combating an infection, but not always. Listen to your body! Prevention is the key! Get your immunizations, get some exercise, eat healthy foods, and obviously avoid smoking and alcohol. MS aside, we all need the same basic advice on remaining healthy and living the best life possible.

Questions to Ask Your Provider at Appointments:

1. Do you feel that my disease is well controlled with my current medication?
2. If not, are there other medications available that you would recommend?
3. Do you recommend any other treatments for my current symptoms (alternative or traditional?)
4. How often do you recommend appointments and MRI?
5. Is there any new research that has become available since my last appointment?

Try to develop a relationship with your provider, and if you feel dismissed or ignored, it may be time to consider a change. Like any relationship in life, some people just don’t “click.” But in this case, your health is at stake; so don’t be afraid to find the right fit for you.

*Meagan Freeman was diagnosed with RRMS in 2009, at the age of 34, in the midst of her graduate education. She is a Family Nurse Practitioner in Northern California, and is raising her 6 children (ranging from 6–17 years of age) with her husband, Wayne. She has been involved in healthcare since the age of 19, working as an Emergency Medical Technician, an Emergency Room RN, and now a Nurse Practitioner. Writing has always been her passion, and she is now able to spend more time blogging and raising MS awareness. She guest blogs for Race to Erase MS, Modern Day MS, and now MSAA. Please visit her at: http://www.motherhoodandmultiplesclerosis.com.

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Relationship Changes: How an MS Diagnosis Can Change Relationships

By: Stacie Prada

The personal growth that can come after an MS diagnosis affects our relationships drastically. In facing our fears, the unpredictability of MS, and grieving the future we envisioned, our relationships can’t help but change. The experience reveals the dynamics that no longer support our mental and physical health or the future we now need. A friendship or marriage can blossom, or it can crumble from the magnitude and pace of change. And the outcome doesn’t dictate the value of the relationship, determine the efforts taken to maintain it, or judge each person’s character.

I may have been on a life path where my way of interacting would have evolved this way without an MS diagnosis, but I think the diagnosis definitely accelerated my need to take care of myself.

I don’t relate to people exactly the same anymore. I strive to notice when I’m contributing to a poor dynamic, own my words and actions, and distinguish between my issues and other people’s issues. It allows me to have some control over my life instead of unconsciously reacting to circumstances. It also reduces the stress that comes from feeling responsible for other people’s feelings and actions and trying to fix everything.

Some people saw this as rejection or abandonment. Others embraced it, and our interactions flourished. To me it felt like I was supporting them with new behaviors that weren’t at my expense and inviting them to join me.

I appreciate all of these relationships regardless of where they are today. These people are all a part of my life and history. I want to support them in their own life paths that are best for them whether our paths continue to cross or not.

*Stacie Prada was diagnosed with RRMS in 2008 at the age of 38. Her blog, “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” is a compilation of inspiration, exploration, and practical tips for living with Multiple Sclerosis while living a full, productive, and healthy life with a positive perspective. It includes musings on things that help her adapt, cope and rejoice in this adventure on earth. Please visit her at http://stacieprada.blogspot.com/

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Thinking About Blogging?

The MS Conversations blog has been up and running for almost four years and will celebrate its anniversary this summer. Over the last few years the blog has grown and expanded to include many new and exciting guest bloggers from the MS community.

Journaling and writing about your life and experience with MS is a personal choice and is one that is often met with a bit of hesitancy. For some, opening up in a public forum or public space runs the chance of being faced with criticism or judgement; which can be a source of stress. However, journaling or blogging can also hold positive benefits, such as; creating a bond or connection to individuals you may have never had the opportunity to meet in person.

Several options are available to those who are interested in connecting to an online community; whether it is starting your own blog or joining as a contributor to a blog that you enjoy reading, there is an option to have your voice and story heard.

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Have an interest in guest blogging with MSAA? Contact Samantha at sschech@mymsaa.org to learn more. A writing sample will be required as well as a signed consent and release form. All guest blogger opportunities are un-paid, and volunteer based.

What would you like to see from the MS Conversations blog in the next year? Are there certain topics or themes that would be helpful? Please comment below or reach out to us with any suggestions.

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New Year Goals and Designing My Life

By: Stacie Prada

My approach toward New Year resolutions is to just pause, think about things I want to accomplish or do in my life, or stop doing for that matter, and make a plan. It’s less about making resolutions than focusing my energy toward goals I’d like to achieve and living a life I’ll love. I think of it as designing my life and using a new year to motivate me to consider and organize my priorities.

Articles online say people fail their New Year’s resolutions within a very short time into the New Year. I’d rather commit to change and effort than to a specific task-based resolution that isn’t always achievable when health issues or life obligations interfere. It’s also easy to get sidetracked. If I have a plan and a mechanism for remembering what I’d like to accomplish, I’m more likely to succeed.

This approach was very successful for me last year when I signed up for a marathon. I stretched a 20 week training plan to 36 weeks. It allowed for plenty of setbacks without the pressure of failing. It also helped keep it fun. See my post, “Adapting to My Limitations and Doing a Marathon Anyway.”

Considering my MS disease progression will likely include mobility issues in the future, I prioritize being active. I think about things I want to do in my lifetime that I will enjoy and that I may not be able to do if I lose my mobility. My goal is to try to do them sooner than later. If I don’t do some of these things, it won’t ruin me. But I want to be conscious of them and incorporate them into my life now if possible. I enjoy planning and doing them now, and I will enjoy them in the future while reminiscing about them.

None of the changes I want to make are done in the first month of a new year. Instead, my intention is to prepare. I’m not setting up resolutions to do things perfectly all year long. I’m creating a plan with routines to make progress toward living a life I love while enjoying my life as it is today.

*Stacie Prada was diagnosed with RRMS in 2008 at the age of 38. Her blog, “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” is a compilation of inspiration, exploration, and practical tips for living with Multiple Sclerosis while living a full, productive, and healthy life with a positive perspective. It includes musings on things that help her adapt, cope and rejoice in this adventure on earth. Please visit her at http://stacieprada.blogspot.com/

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A Message from Our New President & CEO – Gina Ross Murdoch

Welcome to 2016! As we begin a new year, I am thrilled and honored to be assuming the role of President and Chief Executive Officer of our Multiple Sclerosis Association of America. My fourteen years with the National MS Society galvanized my dedication to all affected by MS. I join our organization building on the great foundation established by Doug Franklin, Bob Rapp, the Board of Directors, volunteers, and the entire staff. These visionary leaders have made a significant impact on the lives of those affected by multiple sclerosis. Through their dedication to improving lives, so many of our members have received much-needed equipment, critical MRIs, cutting-edge technology via our My MS Manager mobile app, and invaluable information through our programs. I would be remiss if I didn’t start off my first post with a heartfelt thank you for all that they have done.

Going into this new year, we face challenges and new opportunities. The worlds of healthcare, insurance and research are constantly changing. Despite this varied landscape, we at YOUR MSAA remain singular in our focus to improve lives. Although this is our singular focus, it is not our singular responsibility. I encourage each and every one of you to get involved in MSAA activities and help us expand the word about how we are here to help. Multiple sclerosis is unpredictable. I have seen that all too well in my many years engaged with our community. I have seen some do well on our ever growing list of disease-modifying treatments. I have also seen those who have lost so much to MS and the overwhelming effects of that diagnosis on their families.

Now as we face the challenges and opportunities of a new year, I invite you to be an advocate for MSAA, for yourself and for those still to be diagnosed. We have made an impact but every week 200 more people need our help, need our information, need our support. Collectively, our MSAA members are in the hundreds of thousands – a very powerful agent for improving lives. My goal is to work collectively with staff, board members, volunteers, and our partners to continue our key programs while also investigating what new services our members need tomorrow. Together, we can take the good work of MSAA to so many more. Together, we can touch more lives and IMPROVE more lives. You will hear me a lot during this year – where we are, what we are doing and how YOU can be a part of our next chapter. I encourage you to reach out to me and let us know about opportunities in your town, your state and your region. A constant flow of information leads to quicker and better ideas.

I thank you in advance for your involvement, your passion, your feedback, and your dedication to Improving Lives and Planning for Tomorrow.

Happy New Year,

Gina Ross Murdoch
MSAA President & CEO

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