Aria’s special reason to read

Aria Scriven enjoys reading for the MS Readathon, a cause close to her heart. Pictures: Rob Carew

By Melissa Grant

Reading is important for children, but each August it takes on a whole new significance for Bentleigh East girl Aria Scriven.

Throughout the month, the nine-year-old spends a lot of her spare time reading as many books as possible for the MS Readathon, a cause close to her heart.

The annual fundraiser helps Aussies like her mum, Tanya Russo, who suffer from Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

Aria first took part last year, not long after learning her mother had the condition.

She read 35 books and raised an incredible $3200, earning herself a spot in the MS Readathon Hall of Fame.

This year she is on track to raise a similar amount for the fundraiser, which helps fund vital support services like MS Family Camps and Family Fun Days.

When asked what taking part in the MS Readathon meant to her, Aria said: “I found out my Mummy had it (MS) and I wanted to help other kids with families who have mummies and daddies with MS.”

Tanya was diagnosed in 2016, but initially decided not to tell Aria or her 10-year-old brother Coen.

“I hadn’t let on that mummy was sick and I was managing my symptoms,” Tanya explained.

“But in 2019 I had a really bad relapse and I couldn’t hide my symptoms.”

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a condition of the central nervous system, interfering with nerve impulses within the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves.

Tanya’s symptoms were severe and included visual disturbances, hand tremors, nerve pain in her feet, vertigo, nausea, memory loss, seizures and migraines.

It was around this time that Tanya was accepted into a stem cell transplant trial.

“I had to sit down and make Aria and her brother understand that (MS) is what mummy has,” Tanya explained.

“That’s when they realised what MS was and that’s when it really hit home to her (Aria).”

One day, Tanya was scrolling through her Facebook when a post about the MS Readathon popped up on her feed – and Aria saw it.

When Tanya explained what the MS Readathon was about, Aria was keen to take part.

The 2020 MS Readathon couldn’t have come at a better time for Tanya and Aria. Melbourne was in lockdown and Tanya had just had her stem cell treatment.

“I was recovering during the lockdown so I couldn’t do much anyway,” Tanya said.

After her relapse, Tanya was told her MS was aggressive and another relapse would leave her with permanent damage including blindness.

However, Tanya says the majority of her symptoms have “calmed down” since her stem cell treatment.

“I’m able to enjoy being a mum again and can go for walks, bike rides, make school lunches and do all the things my kids deserve from me,” she said.

Tanya often reads with Aria before bedtime, and sometimes the pair put their Oodies on during the day and sit on the couch with a pile of books.

Aria loves to read books about unicorns and graphic novels. Last year, her favourite book was Grumpycorn, a fun read about a unicorn who wants to write the best story in the world but has no idea what to write. This year, Aria is a huge fan of Wolf Girl by Anh Do.

Aria has got her school friends Isla, Mia and Lotte to join her in this year’s MS Readathon. The girls have created their own team ‘Bentleigh East Bookworms’, which is near the top of the ‘classes’ section on the fundraising leader board.

More kids are getting involved in the MS Readathon, with the fundraiser having somewhat of a resurgence since last year’s Covid lockdowns.

Sign-up numbers for the 2020 fundraiser totalled 13,969, nearly triple the amount in 2019 (4822).

The trend looks like it is continuing this year.

Tanya said it was good to see.

“Since we’ve been doing it and posting about it on my Facebook, so many people have said ‘oh my goodness, the MS readathon – I used to do that as a child,” she said.

“People are getting back on board because it’s bringing back childhood memories for them.”

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