Dec 14, 2002
News Staff Reporter
Actress Teri Garr cracked up more than 200 people Wednesday evening with quips about multiple sclerosis, the disease she shares with them.
Garr, who was nominated for an Oscar for her supporting role in "Tootsie," spoke during a seminar in Adam's Mark Hotel on how to live with multiple sclerosis.
After making her way to the stage, she assured her audience that she isn't an alcoholic but sometimes walks that way.
"I might have a tiny touch of MS," she said, launching into her spoof on denial, which she called "one of the earliest treatments for" multiple sclerosis.
"I'm limping?" she said incredulously to an imaginary Hollywood friend. "No, I'm not."
Nearly 20 years after experiencing its first symptoms, Garr recently revealed that she does indeed have multiple sclerosis, as do 350,000 Americans, about 3,300 of them living in Western New York. Before that, she would tell questioners anything but the truth, for fear of jeopardizing her career.
"I used to be an actor, and I still do some acting -- but now I'm in the Actors' Protection Program," she joked.
"Overnight, I went from being known as Teri Garr, the woman with the big breasts, to Teri Garr, the woman with MS," she said, provoking another volley of laughter. "People who did the hiring for the studios would call my agent and ask, 'Will she be awake at 4 o'clock in the afternoon?' "
Turning serious, Garr said that there are many misconceptions about the disease, which plays itself out differently in each person, and that public ignorance breeds public prejudice.
Multiple sclerosis has left her with a better appreciation of life, she said, something that a sudden stroke of good luck couldn't have achieved, because most people "aren't going to recognize happiness when it comes along."
That was the theme of the talk given by John Ames of Spencerport, who opened the seminar by describing what happened to him while turkey hunting in November 2000. As the snow fell in the woods, he was thinking of all the things that had happened to him that year: anxiety over relationships, his parents' ill health and money.
"Suddenly it popped into my head -- 'Oh, yeah, you've got MS, too,' " he said.
Ames once had a great job as sous chef with a large catering operation. One day in 1999, he woke up and felt as if he had slept on his hand. The tingling and numbness didn't go away but spread to his leg and to his left side.
"I couldn't lift pots of boiling water," he said. "It was devastating to me, as a physical guy."
Then, after treatment and remission, he found himself in the woods that snowy day, looking up at the sun as it broke through distant clouds with an awesome brilliance.
"I really appreciated the beauty of it, something I wouldn't have felt before all this," Ames said. "And I said a whispered thank- you."
Dr. Peter R. Kinkel, associate director of Dent Neurologic Institute,
gave a presentation on the latest medical research and treatment options,
and answered questions about medications and their side effects.
© 2002 Buffalo News