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Summerlin cyclist uses sport to spread word about MS

Curry Leavitt has been riding his bike to raise funds for multiple sclerosis since he was in dental school, and ever since he opened his own practice, Red Rock Periodontics & Implantology, 7475 W. Sahara Ave., he's had his own team.

Leavitt, a Summerlin resident, has more of a reason than most to ride for a cure. His father, Berne, was diagnosed with MS 16 years ago.

Curry Leavitt was still in high school then. He said he knew nothing about the disease before that day.

"It was a shocking thing," he said. "You do research on it, and you immediately see how debilitating it can be."

The Red Rock Perio Cycling Team plans to participate in the Bike MS: Vegas Challenge Saturday and Sunday. The two-day event is scheduled to start and finish each day at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, 888 W. Bonneville Ave., the home of a new program for the treatment of multiple sclerosis.

Leavitt has been participating in bike rides for charity for a long time. When he was in dental school in Philadelphia, he was on the team for Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., the maker of Copaxone, the medication his father takes.

On the East Coast, he said, charity bike rides have thousands of participants. Here, there might be 200 to 300.

"It could be the time of year," he said. "Out here, there are a lot of rides happening all the time."

Yvonne Overton, development coordinator for the Southern Nevada chapter of the MS Society, said a lot of families are involved in the event.

"Maybe not all of them do it," she said. "Maybe only two will ride their bikes, but the family is there to support them."

Through his research, Leavitt learned to expect the worse. But his father has the unpredictable relapsing-remitting form of MS, and modern medicine now has drugs that slow the progression of the disease. Berne Leavitt is keeping his MS in check with daily injections of Copaxone.

MS is a chronic and often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system, bringing on symptoms that vary from numbness in the limbs to paralysis or loss of vision. The progress, severity and specific symptoms are unpredictable and vary from one person to another.

A healthy lifestyle is one way to hold the disease at bay.

"He works out daily," Curry Leavitt said of his father. "And he's careful, doing things like staying out of the heat."

High temperatures can exacerbate symptoms and bring on an attack. But November promises cooler weather, and that means it's likely Berne Leavitt will ride alongside his son in the event.

Berne Leavitt was an assistant basketball coach for the University of Utah. Now living in Las Vegas, he's a physical therapist. So far, his disease has allowed him to remain active, though his doctors have nixed running as his balance is affected.

"But I can still ride a bike," said Berne Leavitt. "I work with MS patients all day long as a physical therapist and see how blessed I am because MS can go south in a big hurry."

All of Curry Leavitt's siblings -- four brothers and a sister -- are on his team. Staff members sometimes sign up as well, so he's never sure how big the team will be.

Linda Lott, regional manager of the local MS Society chapter, said last year's ride went to Mesquite, roughly 90 miles north of Las Vegas, but this year's ride will be kept in the Las Vegas Valley. The first day will take riders to Red Rock Canyon and the second day by Lake Mead.

"We thought we'd change it up, give our out-of-state (entrants) a chance to have that Las Vegas experience," she said.

The MS Society's goal is to raise $200,000.

Curry Leavitt isn't the only one in his family educating others about MS. His wife, Lindsey, is an author, and one of her young adult novels, "Sean Griswold's Head," features a character dealing with her father's diagnosis of MS.

All proceeds from the Bike MS: Vegas Challenge event will go to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. To register, donate for the event or credit a donation to the Red Rock Perio Team, visit the donate page at bikenvl.nationalms or call 736-1478.

Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at or 387-2949.