Kaley Zeitouni was
just 12-years-old when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Her
symptoms began on a typical pre-teen day. It was a holiday, and Kaley
was sleeping over at a friend's house, lightheartedly camping out in sleeping
bags under the stars. When she awoke in the morning, she was sick to her
stomachand unable to walk.
(third from left) and fellow YAMS
At first thinking
she was coming down with the flu, all she wanted was her mom, Jo, by her
side to do all those things that moms do to make you feel better. But,
shortly after her mom arrived, Jo whisked her off to the hospital. After
seeing a battery of doctors who ran what seemed like endless tests for
over a week, an MRI and a spinal tap ultimately showed a definitive MS
Now 17, Kaley considers
living with the disease to be a blessing in disguise. In large part, MS
has helped her to achieve the level of clarity, wisdom and focused leadership
that most people work a lifetime to achieve.
Today she is the founder
and executive director of one of the only non-profit organizations dedicated
to raising awareness about multiple sclerosis specifically among children
and teens. The organization is aptly named Youth Against MS.
Portman and Kaley with Kaley Bear, designed by artist
Sandy Knapp for the Annette Funicello Angel Bear Series.
YAMS, Inc., which
has an official board of directors and is run completely by people in
high school, has raised over $115,000 since it first began as an
MS Walk team in 2000. The goal in 2004 is $100,000. All of the proceeds
have been directed toward the National MS Society to support MS research
and fund services to enhance the lives of people with MS. Kaley also speaks
to teens and adults from around the world about her personal experiences
in living with MS.
achievements and resolve to find a cure for MS in her lifetime have inspired
many people, among them Annette Funicello and her daughter Gina
Portman. Annette too is fighting the devastating effects of MS. As
a result, the Annette Funicello's Collectible Bear Company has designed
a very special angel bear in Kaley's honor. The bear was created by celebrated
teddy bear artist Sandy Knapp and Annette.
The Kaley Bear sports
the National MS Society lapel pin in its ear. Annette has added a new
MS bear in 2004, an angel bear honoring Babs Pasternack, an MS Walk Team
captain and volunteer with the Southern California Chapter.
A high school senior,
Kaley is grooming her brother Leor (who is the MS Walk Director on the
YAMS board), age 15, to take her place. To keep the program self-perpetuating
and geared toward young people, the organization started Junior YAMS,
Inc. Each board member mentors a younger person for a year. That junior
member then takes his place when they graduate.
About living with
MS, Kaley says, "MS was given to me for a reason. It was meant for
me to learn from it, grow with it and touch others. It is giving me a
purpose in life."
Kaley is now a senior
in high school, and is applying to Reed College in Oregon, UCLA and Stanford
University, among others. She has aspirations to become a doctor who specializes
in alternative medicine and a motivational speaker. Congratulations to
Kaley on being a awarded a 2004 National
MS Society Scholarship!
For more information
about Youth Against MS or how to join or sponsor Kaley's MS Walk team,