By Chris Henry
When it comes to coping with multiple sclerosis, a little denial is a healthy thing, says Bainbridge Island resident Jim Vaughan, who has had the debilitating neurological disease for more than 20 years.
"I was diagnosed in 1980," says Vaughan, 67. "But I didn't believe it. I went into total denial. I climbed a few mountains and hiked a few thousand miles."
By 1987, however, progressive loss of strength in his legs forced him to accept the doctor's verdict. Although he now needs a wheelchair to get around, Vaughan remains "an eternal optimist" who hasn't let MS keep him from reaching out to others.
Vaughan will be honored for his volunteer work with the National MS Society at the annual MS Walk on Saturday at the Theler Wetlands in Belfair. He was nominated for recognition by fellow members of the MS Society's Western Washington Chapter, who say he's an inspiration as the leader of a monthly support group for MS sufferers.
"I try to keep a positive atmosphere in the support group," said Vaughan.
"We laugh a lot."
Vaughan and his wife, Barbara, formerly of Palo Alto, Calif., moved to Bainbridge six years ago.
Before retiring on disability at age 59, Vaughan had a fulfilling career as an electrical engineer. Among his many accomplishments, he designed the countdown clock for the Apollo space program and played a role in the evolution of computer technology. Today, he uses his skills to teach a robotics class for young people at the Edwin E. Ritchie Observatory on Bainbridge Island.
Vaughan has always enjoyed an active lifestyle. When his two sons were young, he spent 10 years as a Boy Scout Master, leading week-long hikes and teaching outdoor skills. In 1988, despite the progression of his disease, he took part in a bike rally for the MS Society that took him 150 miles over mountain passes. Today he works to maintain his strength through a faithful regimen of daily swims at the Bainbridge Island Aquatic Center.
Relying almost entirely on upper body strength, he logs a quarter-mile a day.
Vaughan worked with the MS Society well before he moved to the Northwest.
As a peer counselor in Palo Alto, he encouraged people who were newly-diagnosed or having trouble coping with the disease.
MS affects the body's nervous system, resulting in the erosion of the myelin sheath that insulates nerve cells. As "a computer guy," Vaughan likens a person with MS to a computer with shorted out wires. Because different nerves are affected in each person, no two cases are exactly alike. There is no cure, but progress in treatment has been made thanks in part to funding from the MS Society.
Last year's MS Walk raised more than $820,000. The money goes toward research and local services for the 20,000 people served by the MS Society's regional chapter.
Vaughan is "honored" by his award, but he stresses the MS Society isn't his exclusive focus.
"I try not to make MS my life. I don't dwell on it too much," he said. "I'm sorry; I've got more things to do with my life."
IF YOU GO:
The National MS Society's Greater Washington Chapter will hold a fund-raising MS Walk on Saturday at the Theler Wetlands in Belfair.
Preregistration is recommended but not required. The suggested minimum pledge is $50. Registration begins
at 8:30 a.m.; the walk begins at
9:30 a.m. The course is a three-mile loop on handicapped accessible
© 2001 The SUN Newspaper