More MS news articles for April 2001

Mysterious MS creeps up on victims

By RYAN REYNOLDS, Courier & Press staff writer
(812) 464-7686 or

In a world that loves the hero, all diseases, disorders and illnesses are bad guys. And as villains go, multiple sclerosis ranks among the creepiest, and most sinister and mysterious.

There are stories of MS hiding itself for years only to show up in the middle of the night, its victims waking up suddenly paralyzed or even blind.

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic and often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system. The body’s immune system attacks myelin, the fatty substance that coats the nerve fibers of the brain and spinal cord.

When any part of the myelin or nerve fiber is destroyed, nerve impulses to and from the brain are distorted and interrupted.

Multiple sclerosis usually strikes people in the prime of their lives — between ages 20 and 40 — and in a matter of seconds, it can turn lives upside down.

Mandy O’Brien counts herself among the fortunate. After months of battling fatigue, numbness and eye pain, a doctor found O’Brien’s multiple sclerosis during an MRI.

She was 23 at the time.

“It’s very scary the first time you find out about it,” said O’Brien, now 26. “Thankfully, I had a lot of support from my husband, and I have insurance to cover my treatments and doctor visits.”

A Wisconsin native, O’Brien moved with her husband to Houston before ending up in the Tri-State. She now lives in Tell City, Ind., where she works out of her home as the community development manager for the local chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

And with the exception of a very infrequent spell of symptoms like numbness in her hands, she is otherwise healthy. Healthy enough, in fact, to coordinate Saturday’s MS Walk in Evansville.

After an 8 a.m. registration, the walk starts at 9 a.m. at the Civic Center. O’Brien expects between 800 and 1,000 people to make the trip between the Civic Center and Garvin Park.

Alan Bartlett is hoping for a big crowd. The 38-year-old Owensboro, Ky., man was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis on his 37th birthday, back in 1999.

“I was dragging my left leg, and my balance and coordination were terrible,” said Bartlett about his early symptoms. “I’d always had the reflexes of a cat before this.”

Although he still walks adequately, “I feel inside like I must look drunk when I’m walking around. I’m a proud person, so it’s hard for me to accept all of this.”

Bartlett said he has an eerie feeling that he is heading downhill, but he’s not totally sure. That’s why he recently signed up, through O’Brien, to participate in the local MS chapter.

“Unless you have this, you’ll never understand MS,” he said. “Everything that’s automatic for a healthy person becomes hard work. I don’t take anything for granted anymore.”

Currently, there is no cure for multiple sclerosis, only drugs that can help hold off the advancement of the affliction. O’Brien said money from this weekend’s event goes in part to research and in part to local programs.

Experts know for sure that 300,000 Americans have multiple sclerosis, though the number is likely much higher.

“Some people don’t know they have it, and some people haven’t reported having it,” she said.

In just the rural area in and around Tell City, for instance, only eight people have registered with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. But support meetings for those suffering from MS draw upward of 25 people from the area.

“We need people to let us know they have it, so we can offer help,” O’Brien said. “They can participate as little or as much with the organization as they want to, but we need to know.”

Bartlett, who has lost touch with a lot of friends since his diagnosis, agreed.

“I used to be a real avid golfer, and now no one comes around anymore and asks me to play,” he said. “People need to come out of the closet if they have this disease, so they can seek out other people who are hurting, too. There’s support out there.”