Rare Disease Forces Popular Teacher to Retire

On top of that, Multiple System Atrophy will also degrade the body's autonomic dysfunction or in other words -- you lose the automatic body's functions that you can't control voluntarily.

People with Multiple System Atrophy might have bladder troubles, or they faint when they stand up to quickly because the body cannot control their blood pressure. A person may overheat because their body loses the ability to sweat, or they may have breathing and swallowing trouble.

Family Overwhelmed by Community's Support

"They don't breathe well at night. Before we knew this these patients were dying in their sleep. So some patients will require a tracheostomy," said Dr. Paola Sandroni, of the American Academy of Neurology and a professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Some people will also have problems at night while dreaming because they lose the muscle paralysis that normally occurs during REM sleep.

"They basically kick and scream and they act out their dreams, while normally when we dream we are paralyzed except for the muscles controlling breathing and of course the heart."

Sandroni said the disease is typically not genetic. But once diagnosed with the disease, doctors say they can only ease someone's discomfort.

"There is no specific cure. We cannot cure it, we cannot slow it down," said Sandroni. "There are a couple of clinical trials that are just starting -- we hope it will work. Otherwise it's only supportive care."

At the moment, Polly Birdsall said she's just planning for her daughter's transition to college, and to remodel the house to help her husband get around. She said she never expected the community to try and raise any money.

"It's been unbelievable. We were very shocked," said Birdsall. We were thinking it would be more of a goodbye party for Steve to say goodbye to friends and colleagues and it's turned into something bigger."

To find out more about Multiple System Atrophy, visit the Shy-Drager Syndrome (SDS) / Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) Support Group.

To learn more about the fundraiser for Steve Birdsall, visit the Birdsall Family Trust Web site

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