Friday, July 04, 2003 - 12:00:00 AM MST
By Claire Martin, Denver Post Staff Writer
Martha Elaine Cecil, who helped write and research a cookbook for others
diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, died June 19 at her home in Thornton
of complications from multiple sclerosis. She was 71.
She was 39 when she was diagnosed with MS, a progressive disease that inflames and destroys the myelin sheath covering nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. It was 1969, and doctors didn't know much about the unpredictable disease. With no medical treatment, all they could do was suggest following a low-fat diet.
So Cecil became zealous about her nutrition. She helped design and modify recipes for a low-fat diet published in 1972 by the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Colorado. Her husband and her daughter, Janis, then 13, were her taste-testers, "and boy, did we eat good for a few years," Janis Johnson said.
Cecil developed many of the recipes, substituting polyunsaturated fat for the saturated fats used in conventional recipes. She wasn't a trained dietician, so she researched her high school nutrition textbooks to figure out fat and carbohydrate grams.
Eventually, she counseled others who were newly diagnosed with the disease, advising them on altering their diets and adding exercise to their lives. Cecil believed that staying active helped prevent or mitigate exacerbations, the acute attacks that left her temporarily blind in one eye or with numb legs.
She was a regular at a water aerobics class. She knitted and played bridge to keep her fingers and brain nimble.
"You know what? If I'm going to have this disease, I'm not going to let it have me," she would say.
Until 1999, when paralysis permanently locked her legs and made it nearly impossible to use a wheelchair, she and her husband, Donald H. Cecil, enjoyed traveling. He owned a handicapped-accessible van for road trips, and - after a career working in Continental Airlines' maintenance department - had an insider's deal on airfare. They traveled to Hawaii and Europe.
After the disease left her bedridden, she spent her days watching television and chatting with her husband of 54 years. Among her last pleasures was meeting her only great-grandchild, Jacqueline Elaine Kefalas-Tatum, who was born in February. Her parents brought the baby up from Texas to meet Cecil. She loved to watch the baby wriggle on her bed, or sit alongside her in a stroller.
Early on, Cecil decided to donate her brain and body to researchers, hoping that would help scientists unravel the cause of the disease that eventually took her life. When she died, her family saw that her brain and spinal tissue were donated to researchers through Swedish Medical Center.
Services will be held at 10 a.m. July 18 at Staging Area C of Fort Logan National Cemetery. The family suggests memorial donations to the Hospice of Metro Denver.
Survivors include husband Donald H. Cecil of Thornton; daughters Judy
Lukehart of Las Vegas, and Janis Johnson of Thornton; three grandchildren
and one great-granddaughter; and sisters Evelyn Smith of Canyon Lake, Texas,
Freda Chauvin of Newport News, Va., and Alice Brewer of Laguna Park, Texas.
Copyright © 2003, Denver Post