Friday, March 22, 2002
By Jack Broom
Seattle Times staff reporter
Interviewing Jackie Waldman is like meeting three different people:
• First, there's her pre-1991 self, living what seemed the "perfect life" as a happy and healthy wife, mother and small-business owner.
• Then came the angry, fearful, sorry-for-herself Waldman, whose attitude went into a tailspin when the tingling and numbness in her legs was diagnosed as multiple sclerosis, a chronic disease affecting some 350,000 Americans, including some 10,000 in Washington state.
• And finally there's the present-day Waldman, whose commitment to helping others has brought her joy and fulfillment she never thought possible, so much so she now says her life is not just OK — it's better — because she has MS.
"Eventually, I saw that the more I could do to help others, the better I was doing, and I figured there had to be something to this," she said.
Waldman, a Dallas author, inspirational speaker and two-time Oprah Winfrey guest, is in Seattle to speak to people with MS and their families tomorrow in a session open to the public at the Renaissance Madison Hotel.
This is Waldman's first visit to Washington, which, like many northern states, has an MS incidence rate of about 1.5 per thousand people, 50 percent above the national average.
All four of her books, including one due out next month, revolve around the theme of "the courage to give."
Waldman, 49, said that's what she needed after her diagnosis led her to a painful phase of wanting to simply stay in bed and withdraw from life. "I thought life was really unfair, and I thought I was being punished for something."
After a couple of years, a friend helped jar Waldman from her self-pity by taking her to see "Schindler's List," with its look inside the world of a Nazi concentration camp. It proved to be a graphic reminder to Waldman to be grateful for the ability, family and blessings she still had.
"I realized it's not about how my legs felt but about how we treat each other. My family didn't care that I couldn't be 'Supermom' anymore; they just wanted me to love them and be loved."
Sharing that message has been her focus ever since. She encourages people undergoing any kind of hardship to examine their abilities and interests and then seek out volunteer opportunities.
Her upcoming book, "Teens with Courage to Give: Young People Who Triumphed over Tragedy," tells the stories of 30 young people who dealt with disease or traumatic experiences by finding ways to do good.
Multiple sclerosis, which attacks the central nervous system, has no known cause or cure, but has an elevated rate among Caucasians in the northern areas of Europe and the United States, said Angela Dettore of the state chapter of the National MS Society. It's believed to combine a genetic predisposition and an environmental trigger, though researchers still struggle to understand it.
Waldman plans to visit 60 cities over the next two years in travels sponsored by Biogen, a company that develops new drugs through genetic engineering.
Also during her Seattle visit, Waldman today is scheduled to help present the Hasbro "Teens with the Courage to Give" awards to 18-year-olds Gerardo Jimenez, of Salem, Ore., and Sara Annear of Waco, Texas, both of whom overcame difficult backgrounds to help other teens in trouble.
Jack Broom can be reached at 206-464-2222
Copyright © 2002 The Seattle Times Company