Teen Mom Shows Support in Beckley

Teen Mom Shows Support in Beckley

Dozens of decked-out donors gathered at McBee's in uptown Beckley Thursday night for a costume contest benefiting Wear Orange For Leslee. Among those in attendance was reality television star Leah

Bridge Day Video

Finding Strength Through Wounding

Finding Strength Through Wounding

Leslee Pannell used to be normal. Concord and Mountain State student, competitive cheerleader, and Raleigh County native, Leslee began noticing a series of strange symptoms when she became
United Way Dancing with the Stars

United Way Dancing with the Stars

"Blood, sweat and tears don't even begin to cover it," United Way Executive Director Margaret Ann O'Neal said to the huge crowd Friday night at Dancing with the Stars. She said gallbladders have

Bridge Day Video

iRaleigh Introduction

iRaleigh Introduction

"iRaleigh is a dynamic enterprise undertaken by Raleigh County School District to meet the needs of its students as they prepare to enter an ever-changing and competitive global environment. Our hoal

Bridge Day Video

Finding Strength Through Wounding

Finding Strength Through Wounding

Leslee Pannell used to be normal. Concord and Mountain State student, competitive cheerleader, and Raleigh County native, Leslee began noticing a series of strange symptoms when she became pregnant with her daughter, Haylee. After experiencing months of intense pelvic pain, her daughter was delivered four weeks early but her symptoms continued to appear. Doctors at the University of Virginia dismissed her complaints, citing carpal tunnel syndrome as the source of her problems. “I went to UVA and they told me that I was crazy, basically. I’ve been told I was depressed and crazy a lot. I just refused to believe that and in January, finally, I got my diagnosis.” After being hospitalized for a stomach virus at the beginning of the year, Leslee was diagnosed with an atypically aggressive form of multiple sclerosis, or MS. Less than a year later, she has begun the process to become the first West Virginian to receive an extreme treatment known as HSCT, or hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. HSCT is currently a third phase government trial, meaning it is not yet an approved treatment for MS. The treatment consists of harvesting Leslee’s own stem cells, wiping her immune system via chemotherapy, and reintroducing the stem cells to her body to replace the damaged tissue. The process, done over the course of nine weeks by Dr. Burt of Northwestern University in Chicago, is still considered experimental and controversial, despite being in its third phase. For Leslee, the potential rewards outweigh the risks. “There’s just so much hope in this treatment. It’s [been] really successful and it’s what I’ve been looking for.” Leslee’s battle has been difficult. Schooling has become more challenging due to her inability to write for long periods of time. When she walks, a constant pain radiates through her entire lower half. Due to the relapsing and remitting nature of her illness, she faces the constant possibility of experiencing another episode, which leaves her incapacitated for weeks. “During an episode I cannot walk at all, and that’s terrifying because… some symptoms recover and some don’t. Every episode I have, I wonder if I’m going to be able to walk again.” The standard treatment for these episodes is a steroid infusion, but after experiencing an allergic reaction Leslee realized she needed an alternative. “The traditional treatment for these episodes isn’t really an option for me.” Leslee knew she needed another method, but finding Dr. Burt was a matter of providence. “It was completely by chance. I was reading blogs by people [with MS], because sometimes you can feel really alone. Nobody really understands and I don’t know anyone personally with it, so I was connecting with these people for support.” It was through those blogs that she learned about the HSCT trial and contacted Dr. Burt. Leslee unexpectedly discovered that she met all the criteria for the treatment and less than a month from now, she will fly to Chicago to begin this life-changing journey. “In my wildest dreams, I never thought that this girl from Mabscott, West Virginia, was going to be a part of something so huge.” Foremost a devoted mother, Leslee finds herself looking for the early signs of MS in her daughter. Despite having no family history of the disease, she holds on to a strong concern for Haylee’s well-being. “I tend to ask her weird questions, probably questions only an MS patient would ask their kid. Everything that goes wrong with her, I worry… I don’t have any genetic history in my family, so I have hope… but still yet, I had it when I was pregnant with her, obviously, so there’s a possibility.” Motherhood has been Leslee’s driving force and biggest inspiration throughout her battle. In spite of the intensive 3-6 month recovery period, the potential risks, and the financial obstacles, she has chosen to go through with the procedure, for both herself and her three year old child. “It’s my life that hangs in the balance, my quality of life especially, and the quality of life that I can have with Haylee. I don’t want to be in a wheelchair raising her if I can prevent it. When I found out about [the treatment] it was like, okay, maybe this was the purpose. Maybe I could be a part of something that would give other people like me the chance to not feel as much pain, including my daughter, who is genetically predisposed to it now… It’s very important for me to be a part of that.” Although the process will be long, painful, and costly, her focus remains on the one person who she says makes her brave enough to undergo the treatment. “I’m excited to be able to play tag with Haylee, [because] I can’t run after my own little girl. I’m excited to wake up in the morning and not feel the muscle cramps. I have to wake up 30 minutes before Haylee does so that I can take medicine to be able to get up, and I don’t want to anymore. I want to jump on the trampoline with Haylee. I want to go shopping and not go to one store and feel tired. I’m excited to not take medicine anymore.” Due to the trial status of the treatment, HSCT cannot legally be termed a ‘cure’ for MS. However, once she has recovered from the process Leslee is expected to be in complete remission from the disease; no more crippling episodes, no more medications, no more limits to her involvement in Haylee’s childhood. HSCT holds the key that can change Leslee’s life forever, but that key comes with a hefty price. Because it is not yet an officially recognized treatment program, insurance does not cover all the costs; Leslee will have to pay a total of $150,000 before her treatment can begin. To harvest the stem cells, the medications alone require a $19,000 co-pay in addition to her insurance coverage. Luckily, Leslee has the support of her friends, family, and the community to help her reach that lofty goal. Undeterred by the cost, the pain, and length of the process, Leslee feels compelled to be a part of this groundbreaking procedure not only for her own health, but also to raise awareness and contribute to others in her position having access to HSCT. “I don’t think any doctor should make the decision [for you]. You don’t have to take every pill they give you. You don’t have to go along with every treatment they want you to do.  I really feel like it’s kind of my responsibility to talk about MS, to talk about treatments that the doctors sometimes don’t want to talk about, because there’s a lot of options available.” For those interested in contributing to Leslee’s effort to create a better life for herself, her daughter, and for every person who battles MS, McBee’s in uptown Beckley will be holding a costume contest on October 24 to help raise funds for Leslee. In addition, Pasquale Mira’s has planned a spaghetti dinner on October 30 to contribute, and William Turner at United Bank in uptown Beckley will be collecting donations on Leslee’s behalf.  The need for fundraising is great as Leslee’s first meeting with Dr. Burk on November 11 will require a total of $16,000 solely for MRIs. In the nine months since her diagnosis, Leslee has faced countless challenges but there finally is an end to her battle in sight. Aside from going down in West Virginia history as the first in the state to receive HSCT, Leslee will be able to continue her life as a mother, student, business owner and advocate without the added title of MS patient. Her story has already touched the hearts of many and the influx of awareness and support has only begun. To keep up with Leslee’s progress and make your own contribution of money or encouragement, visit wearorangeforleslee.com. Also be sure to like the Wear Orange for Leslee Facebook page for personal updates. With the help and support of our community, Leslee can reach her goal of once again being healthy.
United Way Dancing with the Stars

United Way Dancing with the Stars

"Blood, sweat and tears don't even begin to cover it," United Way Executive Director Margaret Ann O'Neal said to the huge crowd Friday night at Dancing with the Stars. She said gallbladders have been removed, shoulders and knees have been injured, but all the dancers pulled through to make the year's biggest United Way fundraiser a success. The dancers, ranging from an orthodontist to a local news anchor, put countless hours into the event, practicing their movies, planning their attire and raising funds. Elmer Coppoolse and Libby Kelly, choreographed by Jerry Rose, were first to hit the stage. Kelly was wearing a short black dress with silver jewels and Coppoolse was dressed in black from head to toe. Coppoolse picked her up, spun her around and the two ended their dance to "Wild Thing," surprising the audience with how well they could shake it. The next couple to take the stage was Dr. Brett Eckley and Lori Tabit, who were choreographed by Darrell and Laurie Fuller. Their dance was a classic one to the song, "I Had the Time of My Life," and Eckley picked Tabit up and twirled her like a ballerina in her short gray dress. Eckley, sporting black pants with lightning bolts, scored some points for his solo moves when he jumped off of the stage and started a mini dance party. Next up, Charles "Chaz" Turner and Merrily McAuliffe delighted the crowd with a swing dance routine. McAuliffe was wearing a red striped dress with hair ribbon to match, and Turner matched her with a red tie. Their routine was filled with twists and turns and was full of energy. Eric Thomas and Melanie McGraw, wearing black and gold suits, started their routine off with a song to match their attire - "Gold Digger" by Kayne West. Their routine quickly changed into a Michael Jackson song and the two moonwalked around the stage. William O'Brien and Sherrie Hunter, choreographed by Barbara Yurick, danced to some oldies favorites and got the entire audience clapping along with the Beach Boys' song "Little Deuce Coup." They picked up the pace with "Super Freak" as the spotlights flashed green and red on them. Last but not least, David Chinn and Donna Williams, choreographed by Laura Adkins, took their turn on center stage. They started with a slow dance, but quickly stripped off a layer of clothing, and danced to "Thriller," "Achy Breaky Heart," and "Gangnam Style." Decked out in red and black lace, Williams and her partner certainly had the biggest variety of music in their routine. Beckley's Dancing with the Stars has become the social event of the season, and it's attracting more and more people each year. Tara and John Wooten drove all the way from Charleston to see the Dancing with the Stars event. "Libby Kelly is my wife's sorority sister," John said. "I was actually in a Dancing with the Stars event in Charleston to benefit the West Virginia Symphony." He said, "I have a lot of appreciation for the work and the effort they're putting into it. I have to say they put a lot more effort into this one than the one I was in. This one has a lot more glitz and glam." Hollie Cochran said she wasn't rooting for anyone in particular, she was just here to see a great show. "I came last year and had so much fun," Cochran said. Last year's event raised $50,000 and over 600 people attended, but Margaret Ann O'Neal expected even high fundraising totals and she said there were around 800 guests this year. That money will go toward helping the United Way meet its annual fundraising goal, which is a whopping $525,000, up $25,000 from last year. "This wouldn't be possible without the community we live in," O'Neal said. For more information about the United Way, visit www.unitedwayswv.org.   Judge's Choice Winners: #1 Eric Thomas and Melanie McGraw, #2 Dr. Brett Eckley and Lori Tabit People's Choice Winners: #1 Dr. Brett Eckley and Lori Tabit, #2 David Chinn and Donna Williams Total amount raised: $80,780  
Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim

I love movies with giant robots. I love movies with giant monsters. A movie with giant robots fighting giant monsters? This is something I just had to see. In the near future, a portal opens up in
RED 2

RED 2

Every once in a while, a group of actors get together and make a movie just for the fun of it. Sometimes they had so much fun, they make a sequel. Bruce Willis returns along with John Malkovich

Young Liberty looks to be competitive

With an eye to the future, Jeff Alexander made the unconventional move to get his underclassmen some key playing time last season. One of the benefactors of that playing time was freshman

Independence hires Vicars as head coach

Chris Vicars has been hired as the new football coach at Independence High School. Vicars was hired at Tuesday night's meeting of the Raleigh County Board of Education. Vicars was most recently