Having a loved one who suffers from a devastating disease can be life changing. For Diane Franecki, a critical care nurse at Virtua Hospital Marlton, that experience translated into becoming a longtime volunteer for the Multiple Sclerosis society.
“I have a lot of family and friends that have been affected by MS,” said Franecki who lost her sister and aunt to MS and has a cousin who currently struggles with the disease. “I remember doing my second MS walk only a few weeks after my son was born. I had him in one of those baby carrying pouches that hung on your chest, and he will be 22 soon. That is a long time ago!” recalls Franecki.
Her continued commitment, after two decades, stems from the positive experiences she had with her sister during MS events. “When she had to go into a wheelchair, we noticed that people became more standoffish and were afraid to approach her or talk to her, and she became more and more isolated. But, when we would do these walks and events it was great because everyone talked to her and paid attention to her and she became really excited to participate. It made her feel good, so I just kept doing more and eventually we got the whole family involved.”
Recently, Franecki enlisted her siblings, her husband Joe, her children, and nieces and nephews to form an eight-person team to take on the MS City to Shore bicycle event from Cherry Hill to Ocean City and back. Her team not only finished the race but was recognized as one of the top fundraisers for the event, collecting $2,800 for MS.
“I was very moved that so many people supported the effort by donating money, serving as ground support during the race, or just being there to cheer us on along the 150-mile bike route,” said Franecki. “One of my coworkers woke up at the crack of dawn, dressed up in a crazy outfit and made a sign to cheer me and my team on. It brought tears to my eyes.”
The training was tiring and did result in sore muscles, but Franecki said the experience was rewarding on many levels. “Leading up to the race we would go out and train together as a family, pick a destination and go on long rides and we had so much fun. It was a great way to remember my sister and my aunt and create good memories, especially for my niece and nephew who can’t remember their mom ever being healthy and not in a wheelchair.”
Sharing her experiences with others is also a part of how Franecki gives back. “As a nurse, I have a better understanding of the disease and symptoms than a lay person. It is important to educate people about MS, but I also talk about what the MS Society has done for my family and what they can do to help. I think that motivates me too.”
Franecki often joins her JNESO coworkers in volunteer activities. Earlier this spring, she participated in the Fight For Air Climb in Philadelphia and climbed 1,088 steps (50 flights) to raise money for the American Lung Association.
But, her heart belongs to MS. “Our 2019 team has already doubled in size and I have multiple people who are interested in being a part of this bike event,” said Franecki. “Volunteering is a great way to bring awareness and financial support to research cures and provide services for people with MS.”
She recently heard a quote that put it all in perspective. “During the MS awards dinner one of the speakers said: ‘It is the responsibility of those who can to do for those who can’t.’ Without really knowing it, I have lived that, and each day I become more and more passionate about it.”
Franecki is a resident of Mount Laurel, N.J. and has been a nurse for 27 years.