Apr 3, 2003
Health and Medicine Week
It's estimated that 2 million or more people are living with multiple sclerosis.
Of that number, many would like to work but have not been able to find employment that can accommodate the ups and downs of living with MS. The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation is trying to change that through its first annual Multiple Sclerosis Education and Awareness Month which took place through March, with education about the many abilities of individuals with MS.
"Most people are in their prime working years when diagnosed with MS. Because of the unpredictability of the disease, many employers may be concerned about an employee's ability to continue working," says Tammi Robinson, director of Program Services for the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. "In reality, all employees may need is an employer who is willing to communicate openly, offer encouragement and support, and provide some degree of flexibility should it become necessary. Employers who possess these qualities are finding that they are able to hold onto these valuable and experienced employees, regardless of an MS diagnosis," Robinson said.
There are success stories that point to the employment possibilities that exist when employees are motivated, employers are flexible, and disability insurance carriers know how to coordinate return to work plans for those living with multiple sclerosis.
Take the case of Mary Lou Tittensor, 50, who was diagnosed with MS 9 years ago this month. Tittensor was a Radiology Technologist who worked long hours, often on call, assisting doctors taking angiograms at Washoe Medical Center in Reno, Nevada. When she lost the use of her right leg, she was unable to keep the job that required her to stand for long periods of time. Tittensor was out of work for 3 months. Throughout that time, her boss was in touch with her often, cheering her on and urging her to think about coming back to work. Tittensor was extremely motivated to rejoin the work force. For her, work was a natural part of who she was as a person. "I would go crazy if I stayed home all day. I need to be out with people," Tittensor said.
Chrisonya Pratt, a vocational rehabilitation counselor with CIGNA Group Insurance's Disability operation in Dallas, evaluated Tittensor's case as part of the disability benefits coverage provided to Tittensor through her employer. It was determined that Tittensor would need a sedentary job so she could stay off her feet, and that she could handle 24 hours a week.
CIGNA initiated several positive communications with Washoe Med, who met with various departments within the hospital to determine what types of posit ions were available that matched Tittensor's education, skills, and physical ability level. Washoe Med was willing to permanently modify a position to allow Tittensor to return to work part time as an Education Coordinator. In this capacity, Tittensor remains an integral part of the Imaging Department by planning, implementing, and evaluating programs to meet the staff's educational needs and training requirements. Her employer provides flexible hours so that on days when she isn't feeling well, Tittensor can come to work later. Washoe Med also gave Tittensor a handicapped parking space clo se to the building.
While she still sometimes misses the interaction with patients, Tittensor is able to maintain close contact with her colleagues and the medical staff. "I'm so thankful to be able to work. Every day is a new day. Whenever I start to feel sorry for myself, I remember to thank God for what I can do, and I take life one day at a time," Tittensor said.
"There are countless others like Mary Lou who could work if they had the opportunity. She was fortunate to have an employer who communicated with her regularly and understood the value of retaining a highly valued, knowledge able and experienced employee," said Barton Margoshes, Chief Medical Officer for CIGNA Group Insurance. "Most important, working enables Mary Lou to contribute to her field and take pride in her accomplishments, which are vitally important to a person's ongoing health."
What advice does Tittensor give to others living with multiple sclerosis? "It's really a matter of attitude. Some people just give up. You have to know your limitations, don't take yourself too seriously, and remember to thank God for what you have." This article was prepared by Health and Medicine Week editors from staff and other reports.
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