Contact: Allison Benner, College Relations Associate - Media, 610-740-3790



MS Victim's Service Dog Accompanies Owner to Class, where Water Provides Extraordinary Therapy

Allentown, PA (November 4, 2004) - While most people are just getting settled into their workday at 10:00 a.m., a group of people are settling into the swimming pool for their multiple sclerosis class at the Rodale Aquatic Center at Cedar Crest College. Among them are Brett Weber and Sophie.

Weber, an Allentown native, recalls the first time that he and Sophie attended the class. "The lifeguard on duty asked me if Sophie would be getting into the pool as well." He had good reason to inquire because Sophie, unlike the other participants, is a German Shepherd trained as a service dog.

In 1997, just a week before completing his Ph.D. in neuroscience from Temple University, Brett was diagnosed with progressive relapsing multiple sclerosis. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, this form of the disease is extremely rare and occurs in just 5% of people with MS.

A few years after his diagnosis, Brett began to look into getting a service dog that could aid him with tasks like pulling his wheelchair and picking up objects. Eventually he found Sophie as a puppy and, with the help of a friend, personally trained her as a service dog.

Sophie, now 4 ½ years old, is constantly by Brett's side, even at the Rodale Aquatic Center, where Brett joins other area residents every Tuesday and Thursday morning for the only aquatic therapy class in the region designed specifically for those with MS.

"The group atmosphere of the class makes it very worthwhile," says Weber. "Knowing that the other participants recognize what you're going through and working together to accomplish the exercises is very motivating. I've felt a big difference in my body since I started the class this past summer. I have more strength and feel myself working with muscles I didn't even know I had." Weber says that he finds working with water platforms in the pool particularly beneficial for stretching his legs and helping them get loose.

"When we first came to the center for the class, I think Sophie thought she was going to get in the water as well. She is very attentive and observant to everything going on in the pool during the class."

Since his diagnosis, Brett has increased his focus on being an artist in addition to his work as a scientist. Brett, who describes his paintings as a kind of abstract art therapy, has had his work featured in a number of shows - in Manhattan, Philadelphia and Greece among others - and publications with the purpose of raising awareness of MS and primary progressive and primary relapsing MS in particular. In fact, a portion of the proceeds from his paintings is reserved for his own scholarly research on MS and for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

"In addition to drawing on my own faith and creativity, I believe that companionship also plays a vital role in one's ability to heal," says Weber. "Sophie has become one of those companions that contributes to my ability to heal."

To schedule an interview with Brett Weber, please contact the College Relations Office at 610-740-3790. The multiple sclerosis shallow water class is held every Tuesday and Thursday at 10:00 a.m. For more information about the Rodale Aquatic Center's multiple sclerosis class, please call 610-606-4670.

About the Rodale Aquatic Center for Civic Health

The Rodale Aquatic Center is dedicated to fostering civic health and wellness by providing educational opportunities to the larger community, both alone and in cooperation with other organizations, that enhance the development of mind, body and spirit through a comprehensive array of aquatic classes, integrated with academic topics focused on healthy lifestyles. In addition to traditional swimming lessons for adults and children, the Aquatic Center strives to serve the diverse needs of the community with programs like Aqua Pilates/Ai Chi, Multiple Sclerosis Shallow Water, "Moms in Motion," Red Cross Certification, Health and Wellness lectures and many others. For a complete list of offerings, contact the Aquatic Center at 610-606-4670 or visit www.rodaleaquaticcenter.org.



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