By PATRICK DRAKE,
March 22, 2001
Eric Wells is like a lot of other active dads in a friendly, suburban town like Plainville.
He takes his son to a never-ending stream of sports practices: Pop Warner football, basketball, Little League (all three of which he also coaches); he works hard at his job during the week; does yard work on the weekends; and even teaches a volunteer cooking class at his daughterís elementary school. Thatís why he was picked.
He seemed to be taking it all in stride, or at least without stumbling anyway. In 1998, Wells, a 38-year-old father of two, was diagnosed -- out of the blue -- with Multiple Sclerosis, or MS, a degenerative nerve disease.
And a few weeks ago, the Greater Connecticut Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society named him Father of the Year. He and his family are scheduled to appear in an upcoming cable promotion for a state-wide MS fund-raising walk set for April 22. (It will be a public service piece on AT&T Broadband.)
The diagnosis came as a shock, but three years after learning of his condition, Wells is still tackling one challenge after the next. About a year ago he bought his own business.
"Itís not like itís the end of the world," said Wells of the disease.
"Life doesnít have to end," agrees his wife, Kathy. "Itís not a tragedy."
By spotlighting Eric and his family, the MS Society hopes to encourage others suffering fromthe disease to keep moving forward with their lives, rather than letting the disease chain them down.
MS is a potentially devastating disease of the central nervous system that is very unpredictable. And according to Eric, many people have a misconception of the disorder. It is not fatal, he said. Symptoms vary greatly from patient to patient and range from complete paralysis to chronic fatigue. About 4,000 people suffer from the disease across Connecticut, according to the MS Society.
A former wedding DJ, kitchen manager at J. Timothyís Tavern, and operator of his own lunch truck, Eric has done a lot of different things for a living. He is currently the owner of More Than Just Bagels in the Big ĎYí plaza on New Britain Avenue in town. (According to Eric, his place is way more than just bagels; itís a full restaurant.) But whatever his job, he has always been known for the huge effort he put into his work, according to his family.
"Eric has never missed a day of work," said Kathy.
"I would never stop, always go," said Eric.
He has been lucky so far. Currently, his worst symptom is chronic fatigue. It is severe, and comes and goes at odd times. After a few strokes of the raking leaves in his yard, he would be so tired he would have to lay down. But he has since learned to deal with the fatigue; it still slows him, but it doesnít shut him down.
He doesnít know what is going to happen to him. His doctors canít tell how the disease will progress. It could be horrible: blindness, cognitive problems, paralysis. But, optimistically, it may not take the worst toll on his body.
The disease started off with a numbness in his feet and legs in the summer of 1998, a symptom which has since passed.Information about the disease can sometimes be overwhelming.
"The more you read, the more confused you are, the more you donít understand," said Eric. "They really scare you, because there are no answers."
But the worst part of the disease, according to Eric, is the feeling that others see him as stricken, or ravaged. A lot of people who know of his illness, ask him about his condition anytime they see him.
"I hate that more than anything," said Eric.
Heís doing all right, and he will be able to deal with what comes along.
What do his kids think about all the attention form the MS Society?
"I felt good about him being father of the year because he does tons of stuff with me," said his 8-year-old son, Quintin, a third-grader at Toffolon Elementary School.
His 6-year-old daughter, Mikayla, thinks he does a pretty good job as a dad as well.
"I like that he makes tons of bagels that we eat a lot of," said Mikayla. "(And) he reads to me and tucks me into bed."
His wife thinks fatherhood is his favorite job.
"Of all the things that Eric does, being a father is the most important to him and the one heís most proud of," said Kathy.
Ericís restaurant, More than Just Bagels, is sponsoring a team in the April 22 walk, which is a fund-raiser taking place at eight separate locations across the state. The Connecticut chapter of the MS Society hopes to raise $750,000 with the walk this year (along with the help of about 5,000 walkers.)
For more information
on the walk, call (860) 953--WALK (9255).