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World at her fingertips

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When Chiara Pellus Soria met her mother-in-law she was struck by her sense of humour.

She hadn't known what to expect.

Bonnie Soria had been confined to bed for years because of multiple sclerosis. The Connecticut resident spent most days watching soap operas and talking on the telephone.

Mrs Pellus Soria thought it was a waste.

“Bonnie was clearly someone who could benefit from being stimulated,” she said. “She was still very much interested in engaging and having conversations and joking around. I said, ‘Why not get Bonnie an iPad?' Everyone looked at me like I had come from another planet.”

Her husband Erik confessed to being one of those who wasn't so sure.

“The last time my mother worked on a computer they had green screens,” said Mr Soria, who moved here to work for QBE Re Bermuda two years ago.

It took about seven sessions before Mrs Soria was using the iPad like a pro.

The Sorias are now in the process of setting up a US charity, iMS. The idea is to provide iPads for people with MS who can't afford one, and train people to teach them how to use them.

“We plan to help people in Bermuda as well as in the United States,” said Mrs Pellus Soria, who works at North Star Asset Management Group. “We reached out to the MS Society here. We have created a Facebook page and a crowdfunding page.

“A physical therapist here found the post and reached out to me to say a lot of her patients have MS and could benefit from it. Starting iMS will be the silver lining to what has been a tragedy for the Soria family.”

Mrs Soria, 64, was in her twenties when she learnt she had MS. Her son was then three; his sister Heather had just been born.

As the disease progressed, she moved from using a cane, to a walker to a wheelchair.

“I have a couple [of] vivid memories of my mother healthy and normal, but my sister doesn't have any,” said Mr Soria. “Eight years ago, she had a really bad run-in with sepsis and almost passed away. From that point on she has been in a hospital bed.”

Mrs Pellus Soria understood the family's initial reluctance to try something new.

“Sometimes [people] get very protective because they don't want their loved one to experience any more disappointment,” she said. “They've already tried so many things that didn't work. The first thing I did was to make sure she could touch it. She has some use of her right arm, but she can't extend it. I found this random company that makes stands that allowed her to bring the iPad closer to her.

“But even when the stand was close, if there was something up a little higher it was difficult for her to reach. She needed a stylus to reach all four corners of the screen.”

Mrs Soria then had to be taught how to use the device.

“The first couple of lessons were just turning it on, and pressing the icons,” said Mrs Pellus Soria. “It was about getting her acquainted with the iPad and what it does. She was really eager. She didn't get frustrated. Bonnie is always the most positive person. That was amazing considering she hadn't done anything other than turn on a TV since the early 1990s.”

Mrs Soria now e-mails her son in Bermuda every morning, without fail.

“Now I have this beautiful library of conversations with my mother that I will always have,” said Mr Soria. “They are about her day, what is going on. There's hardly a day that goes by that she doesn't thank us for the iPad. She always says, ‘You have no idea how much this changed my life'.”

Facebook is her favourite app, by far.

“It is funny to see her learn acronyms like LOL,” said Mr Soria. “She is in the thick of things. She likes things on Facebook. Even though she is in her bed, she is out there. She has reconnected with friends she hasn't seen in years.”

•Find out more here: https://www.facebook.com/iMS.organization or send an e-mail: chiara.p.soria@gmail.com.

Gateway to the world: Bonnie Soria using her iPad to watch Netflix (Photograph supplied)
Charity mission: Erik and Chiara Pellus Soria want to help MS sufferers obtain and use iPads to make their lives fuller. Left, Bonnie Soria needed a special stand to access her iPad (Photograph supplied)
Keeping connected: Bonnie Soria using her iPad (Photograph supplied)
Vital equipment: Bonnie Soria needed a special stand to access her iPad (Photograph supplied)
<p>What is multiple sclerosis?</p>

Multiple sclerosis is a disease where the immune system attacks the protective sheath covering nerve fibres.

It makes it difficult for the brain to communicate with the rest of the body and can cause the nerves to deteriorate or become permanently damaged.

The cause is unknown.

Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50.

The disease affects more women than men.

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Published October 26, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated October 26, 2016 at 12:48 am)

World at her fingertips

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