For Meta and Brian Altenkirk, Saturday’s craft sale in the clubhouse of the Water’s Edge Village is not just a chance to show off their artistic skills and socialize with other residents in the complex.
It is also a chance to raise money in the fight against multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease of the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system) that sees the immune system attack the protective sheath (myelin) covering nerve fibers, causing communication problems between the brain and the rest of the body.
For the Altenkirks, this fight is personal, as doctors diagnosed their daughter Margaret with MS when she was 21.
“She is now 52,” said Meta of her daughter who currently lives in New Brunswick, as one of 77,000 Canadians said to be living with the disease. “She had a rough first year with balance issues and stuff. She was admitted to the hospital three times in the first year, but then she started to feel better. She has been one of the fortunate ones. It hasn’t progressed to the point of paralysis. Most people who get MS have had a much harder life than she has. So we are thankful for that.”
To help others along the way, the Altenkirks combined their respective interests in wood-working and photography to create wooden bowls and greeting cards, with Brian creating the former in his own shop, and Meta the latter.
“My husband loves doing woodworking, so he started to collect wood and he started to make wooden bowls,” she said. “Because I live right on the water, I started doing photography,” she said later. “Although I never really was in photography before, but seeing all the wonderful ducks and wildlife right here from balcony, I started to take pictures.”
The Altenkirks have been selling this combination of crafts at the complex’s annual craft sale for at least 12 years after moving to Central Saanich from Parksville, with all proceeds going to the MS society.
“Everything that comes in to our table goes to the MS [Society],” she said. “We don’t hold back anything for our own.”
Over the years, the Altenkirks have raised thousands of dollars in cooperation with the Loose Sprockets, a cycling fundraising team led by their son, Margaret’s younger brother Gary, who works as family physician in Nova Scotia.
Gary wanted to follow his father Brian into the medical profession from a young age, but it was his personal experience with MS through his younger sister and the best friend of his wife that inspired him to help raise money. He fights MS by organizing various activities, starting out with fundraising walks.
A cure for MS remains out of reach, with medical professionals still trying to understand its cause. Accordingly, half of the funds flow into research. But the money also makes a difference in the day-to-day lives of people with MS, said Altenkirk.
“A lot of the issues [that MS causes] are not covered by the provincial medical service plan,” she said. “So they would help them with walking aides, personal help and so on.”
Neither Margaret nor Gary will be in Central Saanich during Saturday’s sale, which starts at 9 a.m. and wraps up at 1 p.m. But they will be present nonetheless.