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Great Falls woman advocates for multiple sclerosis awareness

Dawn Sexton
Dawn Sexton
Posted at 9:44 AM, Apr 13, 2024

GREAT FALLS — At first glance you wouldn’t know Dawn Sexton has multiple sclerosis.

“I still snowboard, I still paddleboard, golf, all the things, and I am still working full-time,” said Sexton who serves as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s District Activist Leader for Montana.

Her full-time job is Touro College of Montana Clinical Education Director.

She first noticed her symptoms of the disease in 2015.

“I actually lost mobility in my whole upper half. So, my arms, my hands, I couldn't feel my torso,” said Sexton.

She said she couldn’t think clearly, and it took about nine months to finally get diagnosed.

“Because it is such a tricky disease to kind of pinpoint, if you will,” said Sexton. “Honestly, nine months is short compared to some people. It can take years to get diagnosed.”

MS occurs when the nervous system attacks the immune system.

“Think of a wire with that plastic coating on it, and that's like your nerves,” said Sexton. “That coating is what we call myelin. And think of that getting stripped on that wire.”

A national study by leading experts shows that in 2017, there were nearly one million adults in the U.S. living with multiple sclerosis.

There was no history in Dawn’s family of what is commonly referred to as a snowflake disease.

“You know, no two cases are really alike. We all have different symptoms,” said Sexton

More severe, or progressive cases can lead to blindness and paralysis. Dawn says she has a relapsing remitting form of the disease.

“I still have some residual symptoms from my relapses, but I will be better for periods of time,” said Sexton. “Then I may have an exacerbation, or a relapse is what they call it.”

The most common symptoms are fatigue, numbness and vision issues.

Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, it’s more likely to happen in women, and its more prevalent in northern regions.

Dawn Sexton - Walk MS
Dawn Sexton - Walk MS

Dawn says some insurance plans do cover treatments for the disease, which can be pricey.

“So, a lot of times there's a gap with your insurance for your copay, and it can be thousands of dollars a month if you don't have great insurance," said Sexton.

However, Dawn says the National MS Society can be helpful with finances.

“You can get connected to an M.S. navigator and they'll help you find financial assistance programs through the manufacturer of the drug,” said Sexton.

Dawn’s advocacy began as a volunteer in Washington. Her passion for helping others continued after moving to Montana and the MS Society took notice.

“I actually interviewed, and they flew me out to D.C. like a month later,” said Sexton. “Now I am the district activist leader for the state of Montana.”

Dawn Sexton
Dawn Sexton

Through yearly trips to Washington, D.C., she updates lawmakers and fights for funding. The efforts that recently paid off in the form of more money from the Department of Defense funded MS Research Project.

“They did approve the $20 million for fiscal year 2024. So that's exciting,” said Sexton. “It's the only federally federal stream of funding for MS research.”

Dawn says another highlight of recent trip to the nation's capital was attending Montana coffee with the state’s congressional delegation. She said they also discussed research funding and expanding telehealth access.

Dawn continues to be a voice at home, recently raising awareness at a Touro College Health Fair and promoting an upcoming Walk MS event at West Bank Park in Great Falls on Saturday, May 11 at 10:00 a.m.

“It will be our second one since before the pandemic. And it is volunteer ran. But we have a great turnout, and the MS society will actually be there this year, which will make it a lot of fun too.”

There is also a statewide Walk MS event in Billings on May 4.

There’s no cure for MS, but Dawn is optimistic one day there will be. Until then, she’ll be on the front lines, fighting to make a difference.