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(Photo by Chris Marksbury)
Posted: Monday April 16, 2012
By REBECCA D. O'BRIEN of The Record

Bob Marley songs blasted across Overpeck County Park as 1,200 people, wearing team T-shirts and sneakers and some in wheelchairs, gathered for Walk MS, collecting about $500,000 for Multiple Sclerosis research.

Many had personal connections to the disease, which affects the central nervous system.

Sara Reilly, 31, of Westwood, organized a team of 15 people and raised $2,400. Reilly’s mother, Jeanine, was diagnosed with MS several months ago after years of illness.

“This is the first walk I’ve done for my mother,” Reilly said. “It’s a challenge for her; it’s affected her work. It’s hard for all of us.”

Reilly works in records at the Little Ferry Police Department — Police Chief Ralph Verdi and Capt. Ron Klein joined her team. “I’m also walking for my son, who has MS,” Klein said.

This was the first time the park, which opened in 2010, hosted the event, one of 12 across the state.

About 12,000 walkers were expected statewide and Bonnie Bardinas, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Metro chapter of the National MS Society, said late Sunday that about $2.2 million was collected — marking a steady increase in fund raising over the past few years.

The walkers ranged from infant to elderly. Among them was Christine Homayounifar, 49, of Bergenfield, who was diagnosed with MS in 1994 and has been in a wheelchair for 13 years.

“When I first became disabled, I didn’t work for eight years,” said Homayounifar, who was accompanied by her husband, daughter and mother. “I decided I couldn’t live like that.”

Homayounifar now works as an office manager for an ophthalmologist in Paramus, and leads a Bergenfield-based advocacy group for the disabled. Her small team raised $3,800 for the walk.

“I am very involved in volunteer work,” Homayounifar said.

Though MS appears to have both genetic and environmental factors, no definitive cause has been named. There is no cure, though some therapies are able to mitigate symptoms.

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