More MS news articles for Feb 2002

Telecommuting is not a luxury for man with MS - it's a necessity

February 23, 2002
By JOHN CHRISTIE, Middletown Press Staff

PORTLAND -- For many workers dreading the daily grind, working from home is a dream. For Mark Vetrano, though, it is a necessity.

In 1994, the 14-year veteran of General Electric Medical Systems was diagnosed with a progressive form of multiple sclerosis, a chronic disease of the central nervous system, that causes muscle weakness, loss of coordination and hearing and vision problems.

Since 1987, Vetrano worked as a field engineer for GE Medical Systems, a division of the General Electric Company, servicing CAT scanners and other medical equipment at hospitals throughout Connecticut and western Massachusetts.

Despite his 1994 diagnosis, Vetrano continued working in the field for an additional six years -- until the symptoms flared up, making a job requiring precision work with tools impossible.

"I couldn't walk very well anymore and the job demanded a fair amount of physicality," said Vetrano, who now uses a motorized wheelchair to get around. "I just couldn't do it anymore."

Though GE Medical Services was long aware of Vetrano's condition and never treated him any differently from other field engineers, he said did not expect "the extra mile" the company went to ensure he could continue working.

The company, it turns out, was developing a plan to create remote stations throughout the country to assist operations at its customer service center in Milwaukee, Wis., where the company is headquartered. Vetrano said with the help of his supervisor, Thomas Serverino, and other GE employees, "the company decided to speed up its plans and set up a remote center for me."

In June of 2000, the company hooked up a remote customer service center right in Vetrano's Paley Farm Road home, allowing him to meet his demanding medical schedule and be close to his wife, Terrie, and their sons, Christopher, 10, and Nicholas, 9.

"The system is completely transparent," he said. "When people call in, I might as well be in Milwaukee."

The state Bureau of Rehabilitation Services also remodeled his home and installed an elevator so he could easily move about.

Vetrano said when his symptoms started flaring up, he assumed the company would just offer him the customer service job in Milwaukee, which would force him to look for other work.

"I couldn't (move to Milwaukee)," he said. "All of my family is here, all my doctors are here.

"I always figured GE would be supportive of me, but I was surprised by the lengths they went to keep me working," Vetrano added. "It's given me and my family some piece of mind."

Those lengths prompted Vetrano to nominate GE Medical Systems for the National Multiple Sclerosis Greater Connecticut Chapter's Employer of the Year Award, which the society eagerly awarded the company in October.

"This employer went above and beyond what they had too do for someone with MS," society spokesman Gary Griffin said. "Their support of Mark is important, because many people disguise their MS for fear of what their employer will do.

"This company is just incredible for helping Mark live a normal life," Griffin added.

"We believe in giving all employees, regardless of physical ability, the opportunity to succeed," Brenda Shields, manager of employer choice and diversity at GE Medical Systems, said in written statement. "When a person indicates he or she needs an accommodation for a disability, we utilize our expertise provide a reasonable accommodation that will meet that employee's needs."

Vetrano said the experience he is gaining in his new job will pay off when another position of interest comes up within the company.

"When you're working in the field, you do your job and are kind of isolated from the company," he said. "Now I work with a lot of different people, which has exposed me to how the business really works."

©The Middletown Press 2002