April 4, 2001—For the first time on national television, or even in the cinema, a lead character has been given both an MS diagnosis and the hope for a continued productive life.
Bear in mind, however, that even in real life MS is what MS is to you. Plus, The West Wing is a fictional drama, not a medical documentary. That said, it's encouraging that the writers of the show have obtained information about multiple sclerosis, its symptoms, and prognosis on a regular basis from the Society.
And it really doesn’t matter if you're Josiah Bartlet, president of the United States; John Smith, factory foreman in Indiana; or Julie Brown, advertising account manager in New York. When you're diagnosed with MS, you all face the same issues and concerns: whether to publicly disclose your MS, whether to stop working, and what course your MS will take.
The National MS Society offers both information and support that helps individuals with MS develop their own life action plans. For instance, the brochure Should I Work alerts people that it takes up to 5 years to actually determine how MS will affect you personally—and that it takes even longer to weigh individual options, find appropriate advisors, and do realistic life planning. The brochure encourages people to buy time at their organizations, investigate sick leave policies, short-term disability insurance—even the Family Medical Leave Act. (It's almost always easier to return to work than to find a new job.) Employment may or may not be too stressful for a person with MS, but there's also no guarantee that unemployment will cure the stress … it may even increase it.
Information for Employers helps management understand that making accommodations for employees with MS is rarely complex or expensive, plus it allows their firm to benefit from the productivity of a valuable employee. It's also the law under the ADA. The Win-Win Approach to Reasonable Accommodations and the ADA and People with MS suggest ways to maintain a successful work environment, and offer guidance on how to recognize signs that retirement might be the better option.
Just the Facts, Living with MS, and Comparing the A-B-C Drugs (In West Wing, the president is taking the beta-interferon drug, Betaseron® to treat his MS) are just three of the brochures the Society distributes to help individuals select treatments that maximize their lifestyles.
In addition, people with MS and their families can join one of the Society’s 2,000 support groups or visit one or more of the Society’s 200 family programs, and they can participate in over 2,500 client programs across the country—including a new Learn On Line program offered monthly through the Society’s website. All are designed to enhance people’s lives.
Josiah Bartlett may have a battery of writers to help him deal with his MS, but in the real world people with MS have the National MS Society and its 50-state network of chapters to assist them with theirs. Last year alone, the Society spent $82 million in client and public education programs, and over $28 million to support more than 300 MS research projects around the world.
We want to thank
and congratulate everyone associated with The West Wing for helping raise
public awareness of MS.