Mar 31, 2002
Courage by Richard Trubo
Ivan R. Dee, Publisher, Chicago
Pages: 320 * Price: $27.50
Review by Jerry Levinson
Courage, as defined by Webster's Dictionary, is "the attitude of facing and dealing with anything recognized as difficult, or painful, instead of withdrawing from it; also the courage of one's convictions to do what one thinks right."
The definition perfectly describes the character of Sylvia Lawry, the woman who founded the institution that is today known as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS). The word defined is also the title of the book chronicling her efforts.
In Courage, author Richard Trubo tells how Lawry, whose brother Bernard was diagnosed with MS in the 1930's, put her own dreams on hold, deciding that the defeat of the disease would be her life's work. As the Acknowledgements to the book recite, her commitment to defeating MS was her "magnificent obsession."
Once the initial shock of her brother's diagnosis subsided, Lowry began to investigate the cause or causes of MS, and whether there was a recommended treatment and cure for the disease. To her dismay, at the time little to nothing was known about the condition. Even more disheartening, many doctors would not see, let alone treat, people with MS, believing nothing could be done to help them. It was not uncommon for people with MS to be given a prognosis of five years to live, maximum.
For those with MS, the absence of information about the disease and the bleak outlook for the future were compounded by the almost total absence of research into the disease and lack of funds devoted to that purpose. There was nowhere for MS patients and their families to turn for answers, and little reason for optimism.
Courage describes how Sylvia Lawry refused to accept this black hole of information about MS, and tells how her novel and unconventional step of advertising in the NY Times for information about anyone who had "recovered" from the disease led to the realization that many individuals with MS wanted more information, research and hope. The book then depicts how she worked tirelessly to form the Association for the Advancement of Research on Multiple Sclerosis (the predecessor of the NMSS). She assembled the organization's medical advisory board and obtained funding for the organization's research and patient-- assistance efforts by increasing public awareness of the disease-a not-inconsiderable achievement at a time when the majority of the public had never even heard the words "multiple sclerosis." As Courage recounts, Lawry's accomplishments are all the more astonishing because they "occurred in an era when women were not taken seriously enough."
Sylvia Lawry died in March 2001. However, her determination, persistence
and entrepreneurship created a living legacy of MS societies in every state
of the union and throughout the world, organizations that are devoted to
promoting research into the cause and treatment of the disease, assisting
MS patients and their families, and eliminating the devastating effects
of MS. Courage details Ms. Lawry's efforts to end MS and form the NMSS
by describing each step in her personal efforts to ultimately conquer this
(C) 2002 The Exceptional Parent