Monday, June 14, 1999
BY JOHN KEAHEY THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
Michele Hornby's life changed forever six years ago.
The high-flying corporate executive, a financial controller in a California firm, was hit with multiple sclerosis. Within 18 months she went from a fully functioning person to being bed- or wheelchair-bound and then back to functioning.
Her husband died six months after that first attack.
Today, only a close observer could see the slight hitch in her walk. Her speech, in measured tones, shows little evidence of the impediments many MS sufferers experience.
And because the Orem resident considers her brain a muscle that needs to be regularly exercised, she has fought off forgetfulness and other MS symptoms by the mental stimulation of getting a bachelor's degree in psychology at Brigham Young University. Now, she is preparing to begin work on a master's in gerontology (the study of aging) at the University of Utah.
Hornby participated Saturday at a family seminar for MS sufferers sponsored by the Utah Multiple Sclerosis Society. The meeting at the University Park Hotel in Salt Lake City discussed advancements in treatment of the disease and rehabilitation issues, and had a special program for children.
MS attacks the nervous system. It affects adults, usually aged 20 to 40, and twice as many women as men.
In Utah, authorities estimate that 171 people per 100,000 suffer from the disease. That number is higher than the national average of 140 per 100,000, and the increase likely is connected to climate. The farther away people are from the earth's equator, the more prevalent MS is.
Utah and Idaho have higher-than- average populations with the disease.
For some reason, the body's insulation material, called myelin, that insulates nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord, is destroyed.
The effect is similar to the broken insulation on an electrical wire: shorts occur. It can affect walking, talking, vision, bladder control and breathing.
If premature death does occur, it usually is attributed to a failure in some key function, such as respiratory shutdown, rather than MS. As Hornby and her friend, MS counselor Tina Johnson, can attest, the frequency and severity of MS attacks often depend on how those stricken handle the disease and manage their lives.
Drugs help, but just as important, says Johnson, is attitude.
Attitude -- the willingness to take each day as it comes and to fight back with rehabilitation after each attack -- is the cheapest part of the plan.
Without insurance, Hornby says, sufferers can pay as much as $1,800 a month for medication. One monthly shot alone for sufferers with a specific type of MS can cost $1,100. "Look at it this way," says counselor Johnson, herself confined to a wheelchair by the disease:
"Life is an educational system. I prefer to believe that MS can continue to educate me. I have been a nurse for 24 years and have had MS for seven years. I cannot be a nurse in a hospital anymore, but I can use nursing to help disabled people."
It is a matter of adjustment, both Johnson and Hornby say.