Friday, April 6, 2001

Miss Waikiki Liane Mark shows the pair of 4-1/2-inch heeled
shoes she thought was causing the numbness in her feet.

MS doesn’t deter
beauty queen

Miss Waikiki Liane Mark
was diagnosed with the illness
at only 23 years of age

By Helen Altonn

TAKING OFF HER 4-1/2-inch heels after winning the Miss Waikiki pageant Jan. 13, Liane Mark noticed her legs and feet felt funny.

She thought the numb and tingling sensation was due to her heels. "They are very high. My feet had hurt before after them," she said. "I always said the hardest part of the pageant was the shoes."

But the sensation didn't go away, she said. "It was kind of like when your foot is asleep. Then, it started spreading up my torso, and after a month it reached my hands."

She finally went to a doctor, who sent her immediately to a neurologist. He checked her into Kaiser Permanente's Moanalua Hospital, where she underwent a full battery of tests.

"They were expecting to find a tumor on my spine, but what they found were many areas without myelin, the fatty substance on the nerve cells that help speed up conduction of nerve impulses," she said.

She was diagnosed, at age 23, with multiple sclerosis, a debilitating disease of the nervous system.

A 1999 graduate of Yale University, Mark has compiled a long list of academic, talent and beauty honors.

Besides being a cum laude scholar, she was Hawaii's Junior Miss in 1995, Miss Oahu last year and Miss Waikiki this year.

She was first runner-up for Miss Hawaii last year but declined the title when Miss Hawaii Angela Baraquio won the Miss America contest. She plans to seek the Miss Hawaii title on her own merit this June and hopes to compete for Miss America in September.

Meanwhile, Mark has changed her contest platform. Last year, she focused on help for children of divorced parents. Now, she's advocating for funds for multiple sclerosis research and programs.

She's excited about forming a Miss Waikiki team for a 3-mile MS Walk, starting at 7:30 a.m. Saturday at the McCoy Pavilion.

About 360 people have signed up for the event, compared with 150 last year, and all proceeds remain in Hawaii for services and programs.

Mark said she has had "wonderful response" from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Web site, drawing more than $2,000 in pledges from around the country and from friends internationally.

She volunteered for an MS fund-raiser, among many other community service activities, while attending Iolani School, she said. "But I didn't know exactly what MS was."

She couldn't put a face on it until it was her own, she said.

She is a lifeguard and teaches swimming at the YWCA. She exercises a lot and eats right, she said. "So it was a big surprise that I was ill at all -- then to find out this disease doesn't have a cure, and they don't know the cause."

She learned most people are diagnosed between their 20s and 40s, and the disease is twice as likely in women as men, she said. "It's very disabling for many people. Therefore it affects peoples' families, if family members need to take care of this person."

During her five-day hospital stay, she said the doctors and nurses encouraged her to learn as much as possible about MS "because there being no cure, people sometimes feel very helpless. And I did feel very helpless in the beginning."

Then, she told herself: "Wow, I can't do anything about it other than learn about it. I'm already doing the right things in terms of diet, exercise and lifestyle."

Perhaps that helped to protect her, she said. "Maybe that's why I'm not experiencing greater problems."

Her X-rays showed a whole strip of her spine without a myelin coating of nerve fiber, she said, adding that "it's a miracle" she doesn't have more severe symptoms.

She called 1-800-FIGHTMS to get more information about the disease and said it was "very comforting" to talk to Lyn Moku, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's Hawaii division manager.

She went back to work, which was a good feeling, she said. "My kids really missed me."

She also has a crammed schedule of charity and community activities. In just one afternoon this week, she helped a Sterling Scholar at Iolani work on interview skills. She met with the pageant director looking for a wardrobe for Miss Hawaii. And she went to a committee meeting to set up a golf tournament to raise money for children of divorced parents.

Moku said she has talked to Mark about being an ambassador for multiple sclerosis in the community, talking about programs, fund-raising activities and research for a cure.

"I think she'll be just a really good spokesman. She's taken such a positive approach to dealing with this."

Instead of asking God, "Why me?" she asks: "What is your plan for me? What can I do to help others?" Moku said.

Upon learning of her daughter's disease, her mother, a retired Kaiser surgeon living in Oregon, immediately tried to find out as much as she could about MS, Mark said.

Her father, with whom she lives, also "is taking the best care of me," she said.

He did research on dietary recommendations and "has been tweaking my diet a little bit more." They go on walks, and he makes her take a lot of naps, she said.

She has just started weekly injections of Avonex, one of three drugs recommended by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to control the disease.

In general, she said she's feeling good, although her balance is a little off, and she still has numbness and tingling.

"Even if it never goes away, it's something I can live with and be happy living with it, if that was the worst of it," she said.

Her goal, besides becoming Miss America, is to pursue acting.

"Eventually, I'd hoped to have my own production company, doing children's programs," she said.

"I think a lot of things on TV are not developmentally appropriate. There is a lot of violence on TV, and I think we learn from everything we see."

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