With a little help from an enlightened employer, a loving family, and a disease-modifying drug.
InsideMS; Summer 2002; Vol. 20, Issue 3
According to the sages, all independence is a form of interdependence, and Gene Fatur, the 2001 MS Achiever of the Year, is vibrant proof of this. The National MS Society honored both Gene and Turner Construction Company, where he works, at the Society’s annual National Leadership Conference.
Ten years ago, Gene Fatur was a top-level project manager for Turner Construction. He still is. But off and on that year, he was troubled by double vision. Typically, he didn’t fuss about it. He simply patched one eye and went on with his busy life. Then on Christmas morning, he fell out of bed as he tried to get up. Within a few days, his entire right side was paralyzed and he was assaulted by a dozen symptoms. It seemed as if everything had gone wrong. His speech, swallowing ability, and vision were all out of kilter.
Today, he limps a little, and uses his smarts to ward off fatigue.
“I was diagnosed in 1993, and Betaseron had just been approved. For the first time, there was something we could do about MS. I responded very well,” Gene said. But there was a long struggle with symptoms—and with fear. The Faturs have four children. Worry about Gene’s future increased the family stress.
“We found wonderful hearts and hands,” said his wife, Valerie. “There is nothing good about MS, but we feel so blessed. Friends and family members brought us cooked dinners, when cooking was the last thing on our minds.”
At 11, Shambra took responsibility for Anna and Paul, who were one and two respectively, while Valerie cared for Gene. The family found mutual support and inner strength they had not dreamed they possessed. And they found more—a positive attitude on the part of Gene’s employer.
Turner Construction, the 2001 MS Employer of the Year, is among a growing group of businesses that believe in keeping their skilled employees. In accepting the Society’s award, Turner spokesman John de Ruiter said, “I know Gene well, and his illness really brought home the importance of making changes on the job. We made mostly minor changes, and they helped us retain a valued and loyal employee.”
Turner not only allowed Gene to work from home when he was unable to come in, they helped him build an accessible home office. When he was able to return, he was offered mobility aids, an accessible office, and—perhaps most important—good humor, not pity from the people he works with.
“Why would we pity him?” Mr. de Ruiter asked. “Gene is a real role model for our younger staff. He has MS and he finds a way to carry on. He never waivers.
“We have a flexible work environment at Turner, not just because it’s fair, but because it’s necessary. Turner is a great company because of its people—people like Gene Fatur and his amazing wife.”
Both Turner and Gene are proud of the most recent major project he managed: the Denver Broncos’ new INVESCO Field at Mile High Stadium. The job came in on time and under budget.
“There is life after you’ve been diagnosed,” Gene told the conference audience. He went on to describe how much he owes to Valerie, and their children, Anna, Paul, Shambra, and Travis.
“I do my part,” Gene concluded. “I take my medications and some vitamins.
I’ve learned to rest when I’m tired, and I try to avoid stress. The rest
I owe to my family, my friends, and the company I work for. And to something
else. The drug I take came from research. So I feel my achievements are
mostly due to God’s grace, the help of others, and to research supported
by the National MS Society.”
© 2002 The National Multiple Sclerosis Society