This woman's group of friends kept a promise for 21 years...and counting

Circle of friends support woman battling MS

Our continuing series A More Perfect Union aims to show that what unites us as Americans is far greater than what divides us. In this installment, we look at the healing power of friendship. More than two decades ago, a group of women in Maryland rallied around their friend Harriet as she battled the debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis. That same group, which goes by the cheeky name "Harriet's Harem," is still keeping her strong.

A comforting massage, a manicure, or even just a walk down memory lane. This is what "Harriet's Harem" is all about. Twenty-one years ago, Harriet Fridkin's friends created a care giving group when multiple sclerosis stole Harriet's physical freedom. Every Monday through Friday Harriet gets a visitor, reports CBS News' Chip Reid. 

Why they do it? It's not just for her they say, it's good for them too.

Karen Balamaci, one of the founding members, believes it's "absolutely" better to give than to receive.

"I think she stimulates all of us, and I love talking to her, but I love listening to her," Balamaci said.

"We both give and receive at the same time. So for me it is a win-win situation," added Barbara Ranhand, a relatively junior member who joined just 11 years ago. She plays Sudoku with Harriet and organizes the calendar every month. 

"Harriet has been very helpful to me in my personal life, and whatever I can give back. As I tell her quote unquote, 'Harriet, you saved my life, now you're stuck with me forever,'" Ranhand said.  

CBS News Harriet Fridkin

That's a pretty consistent theme with this group, but Harriet says she has the better end of the deal. She most appreciated the communication and conversation.

Harriet's husband, Jerry, says the harem gives her a level of support that he can't.
"I think her worst times are on the weekend when I'm on duty," he joked. "And there is no harem here at all. She thrives on the harem."

Harriet's daughters agree.

"The benefits that we see in mom, if other people could use this and also be able to duplicate it," Cheryl Kitt said of her mother. Added her other daughter, Ellie, "She doesn't think of herself as sick, she just thinks that she can't move. And it's the attitude that really helps."

Her family and her harem say that positive outlook on life is Harriet's gift to them.

"I want people getting out of this to see how wonderful my wife is," Jerry said. "This is a happy story, and I want people to understand that this is a happy story."