Apr 1, 2003
The Record, Bergen County, NJ
There was a time when the pain of his disease made pro golfer Brett Massingham want to commit suicide.
A time when he was told, "You'll never play golf again. Find another profession."
And the time when he chose to conquer multiple sclerosis by living, not mourning.
"I decided to not cry and whine about it and ask 'Why, why me?'- " he says during a phone interview from his home in California. "I decided to fight right away. From that point on, you move forward."
Massingham's attitude helped him beat the odds and change history - as an MS sufferer and a professional golfer. The 38-year-old husband and father continued to stay active and play golf after the diagnosis in 1995; and in 2002, he became the first person with MS to play in a PGA tour event.
The feat earned him national recognition. His story was heard by many, including June Halper, executive director of the Gimbel MS Center in Teaneck, and Lisa Futterman, the director of development, who asked Massingham to become a national spokesman for the center. He accepted, wanting to use his experience and celebrity to help raise awareness of the chronic disease.
"I felt that it was my duty now," he says. "I'm doing so well with my disease, and hopefully I can help somebody else."
Every year, Massingham participates in two fund-raising events for the Gimbel MS Center at Holy Name Hospital: the annual golf outing in the fall and the Spring Fashion Fling, held Saturday at Teaneck's Marriott Glenpointe hotel.
The event will feature Massingham modeling Liz Claiborne's golf line, as well as Rick Sommers of radio station Lite FM (106.7) as emcee and Dina Matos-McGreevey, wife of the governor, as keynote speaker. There will be a luncheon and auction, and all proceeds will benefit the center.
The Gimbel MS Center, which was founded in 1985, is the only non- profit licensed facility in New Jersey that provides health care and services to MS sufferers.
Multiple sclerosis, the neurological disorder of the brain and spinal cord in which the fatty tissue (myelin) coating the nerves becomes scarred, disrupting the electrical impulses to and from the brain, affects more than 16,000 people in the New Jersey-New York area.
The disease strikes in the prime of life, usually from age 15 to 60. Common symptoms include impaired coordination, bladder or bowel dysfunction, vision or speech problems, fatigue, numbness, hearing loss, tremors, seizures, stiffness, or spasms.
There is no cure for MS and it affects each person differently.
"This disease gets better and worse, waxes and wanes," Harper says. "With MS, no matter what they do, sometimes you just don't get better. So we have to be prepared for a wide [variety of] situations."
With medication, Massingham suffers only mild symptoms. He works as a manager at a golf retail company and plays football, hockey, and rides a bike and skateboard with his 5-year-old son, Ben. A lot of times he forgets he has MS, he says.
Having emerged from rough times when death seemed a better alternative, Massingham wants to give hope to fellow MS sufferers. There may not be a cure for the body, but there's a cure for the spirit.
"Don't ever give up," he says. "I think half of the problem is the mental
state of mind. If you believe that you're gonna beat it and that you can
beat it, you probably will."
© 2003 The Record, Bergen County, NJ