05/20/2002 - Updated 11:34 AM ET
By Adele Slaughter, Spotlight Health
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
Everything was "groovy" at the recent Race to Erase MS gala. But while the "Peace and Love" theme brought out Hollywood's hottest hippies, those who suffer from Multiple Sclerosis (MS) often experience anything but peace.
"MS affects more people than we realize, and it affects more woman than men," says Sela Ward. "So when Nancy Davis asked me if I would host tonight, because she wanted a female presence, I was happy to help raise awareness and hopefully raise a lot of money."
Joining Ward were such superstars as Sylvester Stallone, Ray Romano, Brook Shields, Tom Arnold, Tony Danza, Jon Lovitz, Montel Williams, and Angela Bassett.
The 1,3000 gathered guests got their groove on thanks to musical performances by Smokey Robinson, Donna Summer, Don Henley, and Stevie Nicks.
Co-chaired by Nancy Davis and fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger, the ninth annual fashion show and benefit auction raised nearly $2.5 million to find a cure and treatments for MS, a disease of the central nervous system that deteriorates the myelin sheath protecting nerve fibers.
"I'm doing very well now. I have had MS for 11 years, and I am very, very lucky because when I was first diagnosed I didn't get such a good prognosis about my future," says Davis, founder of the Center Without Walls, a consortium of scientists who collaborate on MS research. "We're all working as hard as we possibly can to find a cure for MS. Our event is called the Race To Erase MS, because we are in a hurry to cross that finish line and find a cure for MS in the very near future."
Davis has a unique ability to rally people around her cause and inspire greatness. Hilfiger has proved to be an equally passionate ally in the fight against MS.
"My sister has MS," says Hilfiger, "and ten years ago Nancy asked me to get involved in fundraising, so I have been bringing fashion and music together to raise money to find a cure."
"Knowing and seeing how hard Nancy Davis works is very inspiring," says Tom Arnold. "She has one goal in mind and that's to find a cure and along the way to find medications that make it easier. And she's never complained about herself. Not ever."
"And Nancy gives back more than the average bear, trust me," adds friend Tony Danza.
According to the national Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS), approximately 330,000 Americans suffer from MS. But last year a Zogby Poll suggested that as many as 3 million Americans may live with MS. The lower estimate has been called into question on the empirical evidence that most Americans know at least one person with the disease.
Adding to the numbers controversy is the fact that MS often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
"People often don't know they have it because the symptoms are so vague," notes Dr. Arnold Klein, Professor of Medicine and Dermatology, UCLA. "I dealt with a 26 year-old kid who they thought had Lyme disease. He had tingling in his feet, visual difficulty, and memory loss. I arranged for him to have an MRI, and it turned out he had MS."
MS is a chronic, debilitating disease that does not shorten the typical patient's life span, but progressively disables and affects his or her quality of life. As parts of the nervous system break down from inflammation and demyelination, nerve impulses short circuit, causing the following possible symptoms:
New York minute
"So much has happened in MS research in such a short time," says Davis. "When I was first diagnosed with MS, it was just impossible. There was so little available and now things are happening at an amazing pace."
"There are a lot of different ways to treat it," says Arnold. "Nancy treats hers one way, Montel treats his another way. There's a lot to learn about it, and hopefully we'll get a cure."
"I fight this thing the best I can. I use spirit; I use body; I use sound mind, and I use medication," says Montel Williams. "I've been on Copaxone for several years now, but I'm also on a hormonal replacement treatment and a very high vitamin regimen, and that all together is keeping me well."
The ABC drugs — Avonex, Betaseron, and Copaxone — help regulate the immune response and reduce the severity of the MS attacks. Rebif, approved six weeks ago by the FDA, is an immune enhancing drug that has been shown to delay the progression of disability in MS patients.
And more breakthroughs are hopefully on the horizon, thanks in no small part to Davis' vision of researchers sharing information.
To facilitate this process, Davis created the now annual MS roundtable discussion, which follows the benefit each year. The roundtable brings together those afflicted with MS with leading doctors from six clinics conducting research.
Along with restoring the ability to walk and removing chronic pain, a new treatment option using the cosmetic drug botulinum toxin, commonly called Botox, was discussed at the roundtable.
"Everybody knows Botox as something that eliminates wrinkles, but I know a lot of people who are using Botox to alleviate some of their MS symptoms," says Davis. "I had a certain attack, and had Botox, and it went away. It was amazing."
Hilfiger also knows first-hand the positive benefits of Botox.
"My sister had a Botox treatment to release the muscle tension in her legs," says Hilfiger. "She couldn't walk for six years, now she can walk."
"For people who have MS, spasticity is one of their biggest problems and Botox can help with that," says Klein. "I am very excited about the observations I have made about Botox. A woman who had lost her voice used Botox on one vocal cord and her voice came back entirely. It's a great agent, and its use in neurologic conditions awaits further explorations."
"While Botox is not a cure, it seems to be a wonderful step in helping people get back some of their independence in life," says Davis.
"Looks can be deceiving. A lot of us can walk around and hold our heads
up high, but you don't know how much we're suffering," says Williams. "There
are a lot of people suffering that don't get checked-up. It's great that
The Nancy Davis Foundation gets the word out so people can get diagnosed
and start the process of trying to stay well."
© Copyright 2002 USA TODAY