Published Wednesday, April 26, 2000, in the Miami Herald
By Donna Gehrke White
Call it the pluck of Margie Meyer.
It's not enough that she has rebounded from multiple sclerosis, taught herself to walk again, gone back to school to become a critical-care nurse and just had her first baby at age 41.
This Saturday, she's also riding in the Multiple Sclerosis 150 ''Break Away to Key Largo'' Bike Tour -- 10 weeks after giving birth.
OK, she feels a little bit queasy about this -- ''I haven't exercised in months!'' she says. She definitely thinks she won't finish the two-day event.
But fiance George Todd and their red-headed infant, Leah Rose, will be riding in a car alongside her, urging her on.
And it's not Meyer's way to even think of not going for it. She has participated in the 150-mile MS bike tour since 1988, becoming one of the event's top fund-raisers. Last year, she raised more than $3,000, the third highest.
''This is our fight,'' Meyer says. ''I think the one thing I have learned from having MS is that it drives me to do things today instead of putting them off.''
Meyer has undergone a major revolution. She's not just relying on doctors and drugs. She's also looking to overhaul her mind -- in addition to her body.
''I like her spunk and attitude. She's a fighter,'' says Monica Whiting, director of bike and special projects for the South Florida Chapter for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. ''She goes out and does things -- not only for herself but others as well.''
Spreading The Word
The group is encouraging that kind of independence among the 350,000 people nationwide who have the disease. The society believes that many people with MS are more disabled than they need to be. Well-meaning friends, family and co-workers may be too protective and talk MS patients out of leading otherwise normal lives. Even MS sufferers may be too afraid to try to rebuild their strength and stamina.
Multiple sclerosis is a noncontagious neurological disease that attacks the central nervous system, causing the myelin -- a protective sheath surrounding the body's network of nerves -- to break down. Signals to the brain and spinal cord can then be slowed or even blocked. That's what causes problems with patients' vision, strength, memory or coordination. Some MS patients have to deal with sudden bouts that attacked their vision or even paralyzed them.
In the last decade, new medication has dramatically helped many MS patients, says Dr. Howard Zwibel, the medical director of Baptist Hospital's Multiple Sclerosis Center and a member of the board of trustees of the South Florida chapter of the National MS Society. The new emphasis on exercise, physical therapy, proper nutrition and mental well-being also has helped MS people recover, even thrive, Zwibel says.
He himself started a wellness clinic as part of the Baptist center.
''This is the most exciting time for our patients that I have seen in 27 years of practice,'' he says. ''With what is currently available for multiple sclerosis and what should come available through our research channel, we now have the greatest hope for helping our multiple sclerosis patients keep active and healthy through their adult lives.''
Feeding into the optimism are patients like Meyer who lead a normal life.
Meyer was a twentysomething dynamo who ran the family's Hialeah plumbing and hardware manufacturing business when she became paralyzed at a trade show in Chicago.
Two days before Thanksgiving 1987, she got the final multiple sclerosis diagnosis. She was relieved.
''We had thought it was a tumor on my spine,'' Meyer says.
Her mother took her to New York for further evaluation. Doctors there also said she had MS. By then Meyer was in a wheelchair.
She realized she had to get into a harness and work her way out. ''You've got to come on board,'' she says. ''This is all attitude.''
She networked through the MS Society, which also helped educate her on the disease. ''They gave me peace and a sense of direction,'' she says.
Toes 'Talk Back'
She began ''fine-tuning'' her paralyzed fine motor skills -- or as she says, ''I talked to my toes.'' The toes responded; she could wiggle them again.
Soon she began trying to stand, then taking a few steps. Eventually she was walking.
Going back to school to become a nurse helped Margie Meyer cope with MS. She was comforted that she could comfort others.
With newly acquired confidence, Meyer, already a college graduate, decided to go back to school to become a nurse.
It helped her cope with MS: She was comforted that she could comfort others.
One family, she says, was in awe of how she helped motivate their severely depressed son whose limbs were contorted after a multiple sclerosis attack and physical inaction.
''It's a blessing,'' Meyer says.
Many doctors and well-meaning friends and families warn MS patients to stay clear of stress. Meyer thinks that's unrealistic.
''I wish I could say I avoid being stressed,'' she says. ''But who can avoid that in today's world?''
Better, she says, is for people to learn how to handle stress.
She has had to, especially in the last year and a half. Her father, Fred Meyer, died in late 1998; then her mother, Leah, died 55 days later.
As if that wasn't enough to handle, Meyer then learned she was pregnant.
Many women with MS avoid having children because there is a suspicion that the hormonal change during a pregnancy triggers an attack.
But Meyer decided to take the risk -- she was thrilled at having a child. On Feb. 10, Meyer delivered six-pound two-ounce Leah Rose.
Already, the baby is smiling. She immediately stopped crying upon being delivered to her mom. ''She's a sweet child, she really is,'' says Meyer, who has not suffered an MS attack since the birth.
In addition to caring for her new baby, Meyer has had to settle her parents' estate and repair her family's home near Aventura. For now, she is living amid stacks of boxes of kitchen items and baby goods. Her living room has become a storage center.
But she remains philosophical. ''We all get challenges in life,'' she says.
Talking about Saturday's bike tour, she's realistic. Before, she always managed to finish the 150-mile route. This time, the new mother will settle for 50 miles.
She just feels lucky to participate, to feel the camaraderie.
''I'm lucky,'' she says stoutly.