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Fashionable with 'Cane Coats'

Business is personal for National MS Society supporter

Special to MS Connection
By Christina Harper/The Herald

Rhonda Berry of Everett thought she had the flu when she got sick in 1991. Her painful muscles and exhaustion could have been because she ran her own hair business and worked too hard.

Rhonda Berry

Rhonda Berry
Founder of Cane Coats

But whatever ailed Berry turned into pneumonia. Her symptoms persisted and her eyesight began to fail. Doctors could not find the cause.

“After that, I was never right,” she said.

Berry’s resilient spirit, coupled with Internet research and a new doctor, inspired her to begin to investigate the possibility that she had multiple sclerosis.

When a neurologist did eventually diagnose MS, Berry, now 53, had some measure of relief. She had wondered for years if she had cancer, the disease that took her mother at age 49 and her father at 54.

Berry dealt with her MS, but two years ago her symptoms worsened and she lost some muscle control on her right side. She started using a cane.

“I absolutely hated it,” Berry said.

Always fashion conscious, Berry jazzed up her cane making covers that went with different outfits.

Cane Coats was born.

As well as looking good, Berry’s Cane Coats helps others with MS. Berry designates 1 percent of the profits of Cane Coat sales to the National MS Society and shows her goods at events like the Snohomish County MS Walk, where walkers could buy Cane Coats. One side is a cotton print and the other a solid-color microsuede fabric. Patterns include floral designs and animal prints.

Berry is also embellishing canes with holders for glasses and cell phones and beaded purses for evening wear.

“We say Cane Coats turn a necessity into an accessory,” Berry said.

The Cane Coats are not just fun and fashionable. Berry’s other purpose in creating them lies in the need to help disabled people function better with their canes.

When she started using her cane, Berry admits to accidentally hitting people while trying to maneuver. She would frequently drop her cane while trying to write a check or shop for groceries, so she added a swivel strap.

People stop Berry wherever she goes and ask how to get the Cane Coats. Berry hands them a business card with details on her patent-pending product.

Berry has learned a lot about MS during the past few years. She has also become a whiz at working with sewing contractors, import and export brokers, and fabrics.

Jenny Poast, director of development for the Greater Washington Chapter of the National MS Society, says she hears from volunteers that getting involved to raise awareness about MS can help those with the disease.

Like Berry, Poast has met volunteers through the MS Society who have a tough time with the diagnosis and with symptoms. When those people take on projects, Poast sees their personalities transform.

“It’s a feeling of giving back,” Poast said. “It also is a fun, easy way for them to talk to their family and friends and the community about MS.”

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