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Dangerous heat: MS patients get free air conditioners to cope with high temperatures

Cynthia Roraback, right, transfers her free air conditioner from Candyce Hayes' car to hers. (KATU)

For patients with multiple sclerosis, a heat wave is more than an uncomfortable inconvenience: It can exacerbate existing symptoms and create new ones.

The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Portland’s free air conditioner program has the cooling answer.

For the past two decades the society has provided free window air conditioning units for MS patients.

Executive Director Candyce Hayes says the group has given out more than 1,200 units for patients suffering in the heat in the past two decades.

“For some people, this means that they're able to go to work,” Hayes said. “For other people, it means that they are able to get out and buy groceries. And for other people that are bed-bound, it means that they are comfortable.”

Late last week at the peak of the heat wave, scrub nurse Cynthia Roraback came to the society's office in Southeast Portland to pick up her free air conditioner.

“Heat and MS -- it's a horrible combination, it really is,” Roraback said. It is lifesaving. It enables you to live a life that everybody should be able to, you know?

Roraback works at night and struggles to sleep during the heat of the day.

She also used to live in Seattle, where the high temperatures -- even during a heat wave -- are about 10 degrees cooler

“My body cannot cool itself down,” she said. “And everything starts to shut down, my vision starts to go. I have problems speaking.”

Hayes says her group works to find the best price on air conditioners from various suppliers of 5,000 BTU air conditioning units, which cost anywhere from $150 to $200.

Thank-you cards from recipients are lined up on the mantle in her office.

"With your gift I can get life-supportive sleep and cool down when I overheat. Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” one of the cards said.

Roraback was able to give her thanks in person, with a big hug, to boot.

“Oh my gosh, thank you so much,” she told Hayes. “This is such a lifesaving thing.”

The nonprofit MS Society of Portland serves about 7,500 patients in Oregon and southwest Washington and provides numerous other services, including free air conditioners. Details on the program can be found on its website.

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