While at the ACTRIMS Forum 2018 (which stands for Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in MS), I was surprised to see a colorful display of orange-and-teal colored sock monkeys mixed in with the pharmaceutical company and advocacy organization displays. It was the display booth for Oscar the MS Monkey, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 2015.
Oscar is the creation of Emily Blosberg, a young woman from Minnesota, who first exhibited signs of MS in grade school and was diagnosed at 15 years old. MS runs in the family. Her dad also has the disease, but doctors were slow to diagnose Emily and instead treated her balance problems with therapy for over a year.
We all need a special friend
The concept behind Oscar is brilliant yet simple: Every child needs something comforting to hang on to through doctor visits and those rough times of feeling bad. Oscar is promoted as being a very good listener to confidential thoughts. Oscar and his Buddies (what the monkeys that are shipped out are called until given a name by their new friend) are even certified MRI-friendly, and safe to accompany anyone through the imaging process. To date, there are over 100 Buddies of Oscar the MS Monkey living in the United States and several other countries, and Emily and her family plan for that number to continue to grow.
Oscar the MS Monkey also helps to bring recognition to this underserved population of people with MS — I rarely hear about pediatric cases of multiple sclerosis. According to the National MS Society, “Estimates suggest that 8,000-10,000 children (up to 18 years old) in the United States have MS, and another 10,000-15,000 have experienced at least one symptom suggestive of MS. Studies suggest that 2 to 5 percent of all people with MS have a history of symptom onset before age 18.”
And the Oscar goes to …
Emily’s mission isn’t just to bring cute monkeys to children but also to give support to children with MS and their families. The website for Oscar the MS Monkey includes information in terms a child can understand, and they have videos planned for future use on the site. They recently held an Oscar Buddy Bash, which is a family weekend gathering for people affected by pediatric MS, and have plans to do more of these in-person events in the future.
There is no charge for children to receive their very own Oscar Buddy, but a $25 donation is appreciated to help with the costs. Remember, this is a small charity doing big work and every dollar counts. So, they also welcome donations to help cover the costs of materials and postage because Emily believes, “All kids and teens should have a friend who understands.”
The sock monkey is personalized and then shipped with a toy to keep the Buddy occupied during the journey to his new home. It also comes with MS monkey pins, reading materials about MS, and a personalized letter from Oscar. The teal-colored Buddies are for caregivers, siblings, and others who don’t have MS but have someone in their life who does. Orange is for those with MS. Visit their website for more information and to see photos of children with their buddies.
Emily’s passion for connecting young people with each other and with Oscar is yet another example of how people find ways to engage and make a difference for their community even when they are living with their problems.
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