Ex-RACE Car Driver, Nurse Won't Let MS Keep Them Down
Mar 4, 2003
News Staff Reporter
You may have seen him racing at Lancaster Speedway in his No. 59 stock car.
Even after landing in the hospital emergency room one weekend for an unexplained fall, Rich Warden of Cheektowaga was ready to compete in the Saturday night races.
However, his doctor informed him, "Your racing's done for this year."
It turned out that Warden had multiple sclerosis. But once his physician told him he could get in his stock car again, Warden sidelined himself because of the idiosyncratic nature of MS. Heat sometimes brings on the disease's symptoms, he explains, adding, "If I got overheated in the race car, maybe my leg wouldn't hit the brake when I needed it."
Yet Warden, 35, is still a racing fan and has kept a winning spirit since his diagnosis in 1995.
"I've been able to overcome many of the obstacles MS dealt me," he said. "There are many things that I'll never be able to do again, but there are many things that I still can do, and I'll do everything possible to keep this chronic disease manageable."
He does that with the help of Cindy Heitmann, the registered nurse MS coordinator for Dr. Peter Kinkel at the Dent Neurologic Institute in Amherst and Orchard Park. Heitmann herself has struggled with MS for the past six years. She calls it a "privilege" to help other sufferers, such as Warden, form a support network.
"I try to blend my own feelings, needs and fears into a positive, educational, supportive and independent approach to pass on to the patients," said Heitmann.
"As a nurse, I help educate the patients in understanding their body, signs and symptoms of their disease and the importance of early treatment. As a patient myself, I can identify with their need for support, updated information and contact with other patients."
It has been estimated that at least 3,000 Western New Yorkers have MS. It is more prevalent here than in other areas of the country, for reasons not yet understood. That's just one of the mysteries of the disease, the most common debilitating neurological illness of men and women between ages 30 and 50. There's no known cause or cure for MS, in which the body attacks its own myelin, which insulates nerves. The good news is that today three out of four patients will stay ambulatory throughout their lives.
"With the treatments that are currently available, and with the help of my doctors and their staff, my MS will continue to be managed, or, hopefully, I'll improve -- if that becomes a possibility some day," Warden said.
Heitmann, 46, shares her own daily checklist.
"I wake up every morning, get out of bed slowly and do a quick assessment," said the West Seneca wife and mother of two. "All parts working? Anything tingly or numb? Am I walking straight, or should I hold on because I'm a little dizzy? Is my vision clear or blurry?" At Kinkel's suggestion, she started the support group for MS patients. It meets every second Tuesday of the month at 6:30 p.m. in the Dent Orchard Park office.
"We don't want pity. I don't think of myself as a victim," the nurse
said. "I refuse to allow MS to take away my spirit or my ability to do
my best, regardless of my physical limitations or adjustments. It's not
easy to be positive every day, but no one is - - with MS or not. I'm grateful
for what I'm able to achieve on a daily basis."
© 2003 Buffalo News