An area man's struggle with multiple sclerosis has made him appreciate his marriage
March 12, 2002
By Joy Victory Caller-Times
Kirby King is a licensed counselor, an ordained minister, a watercolor artist, a veteran Army paratrooper, a devoted husband and the "father" of two dogs - a chubby basset hound named Melissa and an affectionate terrier named Ricky.
In spite of all that, when he shops for groceries in his wheelchair it is common for people to talk to him as if he were retarded or deaf, King said.
"They will ask my wife, 'does he need a drink of water'?" King, 49, said. "She will say to them, 'I don't know, ask him.' "
Since 1985, King and his wife, Karen, have been adjusting to his battle with multiple sclerosis. Slowly his symptoms have gotten worse: What started as problems with double vision and numbness has evolved to King's classification as a high-functioning quadriplegic.
Karen King, 40, who is his primary caretaker, works full-time as a Realtor and takes care of Kirby the rest of the time. He no longer leaves the house much since his symptoms, like shaking, can be embarrassing to him.
Still, the Kings take time out to campaign for the MS Walk, held downtown every May. This year, Karen is rounding up groups at her office to walk, and Kirby tries to attend meetings when he can.
MS has no cure. Research is the only thing that could one day keep people like Kirby King out of wheelchairs and on the job, where he used to counsel recovering drug addicts, prostitutes and psychiatric patients.
The Corpus Christi multiple sclerosis chapter has 234 members. It's estimated that another 200 live in the area, according to the San Antonio chapter's statistics.
Barbara Olsen, vice president for the state chapter, said time has been the enemy for a cure.
"We've come a lot closer to finding out. It's such a level of sophistication, it's taking an incredible amount of time to do the research," Olson said. "The immune system has been the mystery."
'I love my wife'
Multiple sclerosis inexplicably attacks the body's myelin and turns it to scar tissue. Myelin covers nerves and helps the body send messages to move, talk or breathe. The body's immune system can fight back, occasionally going into remission. Drugs mostly alleviate symptoms.
Although he just spent six weeks in the hospital, Kirby King tries to maintain a good outlook on life.
"I taught the use of humor, to laugh at your own limitations and you will not be afraid again. . . I'm a clown by nature," he said.
The disease has an impact on his marriage in immeasurable ways. Karen King married a healthy and strong man in 1983; now she must use a hydraulic life to help Kirby use the restroom.
"I see her doing these things. I've asked her many times for her to leave me, find a young man and have a family," King said.
It's a suggestion Karen King is quick to dismiss.
"We have definitely learned to talk to each other. We have both become more patient with each other," she said.
MS is not fatal. Kirby King and others like him can expect an almost-normal life span, if he receives proper medical care. Perhaps the biggest drawback to MS is that people don't recognize it and often pass it off as something simple. King thought for years that everyone experienced double vision, not just him.
For now, he heads off to chemotherapy every three months for the next two years. Chemotherapy reduces the symptoms but is used as a last resort.
After that, if no better treatment is found, King will have to live with the remaining symptoms. Still, he sees an upside to the disease.
"MS has let me know how much I love my wife," he said.
How to help
The annual MS Walk helps the National Multiple Sclerosis Society raise money for research.
When: Saturday, May 4
Where: Cole Park
Register: Online at http://www.nmsslonestar.org or call 225-2342
Medical Reporter Joy Victory can be contacted at 886-3764
© 2002 Caller-Times Publishing Co