Space returns to work, plans to finish four-year term.
Web posted Wednesday,
June 13, 2001
By Don Lowery
For the Savannah Morning News
Jay Space didn't think much about it two years ago when his speech slowed at times or he occasionally stumbled.
Even when the physical problems became more intense and frequent, Space still would not acknowledge that something could be seriously wrong.
But the Effingham County sheriff couldn't deny it when the symptoms of multiple sclerosis became dramatically evident in late March and early April.
The secret Space had tried to deny became publicly obvious when he was unsteady on his feet and obviously impaired within a one-week period in early April.
As he went on medical leave and struggled to come to grips with the inability to control his body, Space began hearing rumors accusing him of substance abuse. But the rumors paled in comparison to accepting that he had MS and needed treatment.
After weeks of silence, Space ended a media embargo since mid-April and spoke publicly Monday about his MS and plans for the future.
"I definitely plan to continue serving," said the 39-year-old, who was elected to his second four-year term last fall. "Physically, I feel better than I have in two or three years."
Medicine is keeping the symptoms in check.
"It has made a world of difference," he added.
Space was treated at the neurological center at an Emory University hospital and other hospitals during the past several weeks. It was at the hospitals that specialists evaluated his condition and determined which medicine would best help him.
Now, weekly injections of Interferon Beta-1a have caused the MS symptoms to virtually disappear.
"We made a lot of progress and now I am not exhibiting any symptoms." Space said. "It is almost unbelievable, the difference between the way I felt then and the way I feel now."
Space returned to the sheriff's office on May 29 and has been catching up on his work ever since.
Looking back, Space said making the decision to admit that something was seriously wrong with his body was a big step.
"At first, it was easy to deny it because the symptoms were minor," Space said. "But even after the symptoms became severe, I was in denial of the disease and had a hard time accepting it."
The first public evidence of a problem came at an April 7 Easter egg hunt sponsored by the sheriff, where dozens of residents saw Space staggering around. It sparked rumors that he was under the influence of alcohol.
"Because of the symptoms, it may have looked like something else but that was absolutely not the case." Space said. "Anytime a public official has a problem, medical or otherwise, people start talking and exaggerating."
Six days after the egg hunt, Garden City police stopped Space's personal car for weaving and wouldn't let him continue to drive.
Officers conducted tests that indicated Space was not under the influence, but decided he was suffering a physical malady.
Space said he is confident that medicine will keep the symptoms from reoccurring and is hopeful that any neurological damage suffered from the disease is minor and will eventually heal.
County officials have discussed legal liability issues with the county attorney, but Space said that is no longer a legitimate issue.
"There should be no concern for any legal liability absolutely no concern," Space said. "I can drive as well as anyone, probably better than most."
Space's comments have encouraged County Commission Chairman Phillip King.
"There are a lot of people who have diabetes and suffer seizures but as long as they follow their doctors' instructions, they can drive fine," King said. "That is the key, getting treated and taking the medication your doctor prescribes."
In the less than two months that Space was on medical leave, commissioners addressed several issues directly related to the sheriff's department.
At its April 17 meeting, the commission began a preliminary study considering establishing a county police department, which would significantly reduce the size and authority of the sheriff's department.
At the same time, county and sheriff's department officials were haggling over funding for the Georgia State Patrol post planned at Ga. 21 and Rahn Station Road.
King said the fact those discussions came while Space was on medical leave was coincidental. Space shrugged his shoulders and laughed when asked if he agreed.
"I'm sure I could speculate but the answer is I just don't know," Space said. "I'm just glad to be back."