More MS news articles for Feb 2002

NASCAR driver challenged on and off track

February 13, 2002 Posted: 3:21 PM EST (2021 GMT)
From Elizabeth Cohen
CNN Medical Unit

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida (CNN) -- By now, Kelly Sutton was supposed to be in a wheelchair. And she does spend a lot of time in a chair and it does have wheels, but it goes 150 miles per hour.

Since she was 5 years old, Kelly knew she wanted to be a race car driver just like her father and grandfather. But at 16, multiple sclerosis entered the picture.

"I thought my world had come to an end. I didn't want anybody to know. I didn't want to go on living. I just wanted to fall into a hole and just die," she says.

Her doctors told her that by age 25 or so, her multiple sclerosis would be so bad, she wouldn't be able to walk. And they were right.

"In '96, I had a severe attack and was in a wheelchair pretty much all year of '96," says Kelly. "And we thought that that was the end."

MS is a chronic disease of the central nervous system and affects more than 300,000 people in the U.S. Symptoms can range from numbness in the arms and

legs to paralysis or loss of vision. But it can be manageable. In Kelly's case, a drug called copaxone allows her to lead a pretty normal life…and follow her dream.

Kelly's doctors have told her not to race because it's stressful. She spends about at least an hour at a time in her car, where temperatures can soar to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

But Kelly says racing is actually good for her.

"I think that bad stress might bring out the MS, but I don't have that kind of stress," she says. "I have good stress."

Now 30, Kelly hasn't had a serious attack in six years. Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, the drug company that makes her treatment, now sponsors her racing team. Last weekend in Daytona, she finished 11th even though she started way back in the pack in 34th place.

"We are just tickled pink," she says.

Kelly knows it might not always be this good. Her disease could strike again at any time because MS drugs -- no matter how effective -- only slow the progression, they do not provide a cure.

But for right now, she feels like a winner in all ways.

© 2002 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.