All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for May 2003

A dad's graduation gift

With group's help, Lawrenceville man will see the big event

May 24, 2003
By Rebecca McCarthy
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Joe Crowe isn't taking his electric wheelchair to Texas next weekend. As soon as his plane touches down in Houston, he says he'll be running on adrenaline.

Second Wind Dreams is sending Joe and his older brother, Mercer Crowe, to watch Joe's youngest child, Amanda, 18, receive her diploma from Conroe High School next Saturday. The organization specializes in granting the wishes of those living in nursing homes.

Joe Crowe says that the prospect of spending graduation day with his only daughter has propelled him to Cloud 9.

He knows he'll cry when she walks across the stage, just as he did when he learned that the trip was on, free of charge.

Saturday is going to be a long day, filled with food, fun and family -- his ex-wife, his two sons and his parents will all be there -- but he plans to rest all Sunday.

A native of Snellville, where he played football and baseball for South Gwinnett, Crowe, 50, lives in Gwinnett Health System's Extended Care Center in Lawrenceville. Four years ago, he was living with his parents on Rosebud Road, but his multiple sclerosis had progressed to the stage where he needed more skilled care. Along with his three brothers -- Mercer, Phil and Sam -- he checked out 13 different facilities before they picked the health system's 89-bed nursing home.

"This place, I'll tell you something, if you've got a problem, they'll address it," Crowe says. Though not ambulatory, he seems to get around fine, scooting down the wide halls in an electric wheelchair that he operates with his left hand. In his room are gizmos galore -- a computer with voice activation, a DVD player, a VCR, a cellphone and a television connected to a satellite dish.

He can communicate with just about anyone, take courses, be entertained and find out just about anything he needs to know.

"I love my Braves," he says with a smile. "That's why I got my satellite dish. NASCAR, baseball, football, I really like to watch most any kind of sports on TV"

Activities director MerriKaye Johnson says that Crowe is younger, more alert and independent than most long-term residents, who number about 60. She and the other staff members try to individualize his needs, as they do everyone's.

He owns his own wheelchair van, a gift of friend Chris Snell, and family or friends drive him where he wants to go. Johnson contacted Second Wind Dreams when Crowe told her he wanted to see his daughter graduate.

"Of all my residents, I thought that Joe would really benefit from this," she said. "Since he learned he's going, he's been really happy."

Second Wind Dreams was founded in Marietta six-and-a-half years ago by P.K. Belville, a geriatric psychologist. Now based in Alpharetta, the nonprofit group has expanded into 400 facilities in 38 states, Canada and India, said employee Jan Nelson.

She said that every day, somewhere in the world, the dreams of three nursing home residents come true. Dreams may be as simple as traveling 100 mph in a car or attending an event.

"When they contacted us about Joe, we had to do that one," Nelson said. "It was a no-brainer."

Multiple sclerosis at 31

After finishing South Gwinnett in 1971, Crowe went through an apprenticeship program with the IBEW Local 613 to become a union electrician, like his father and older brother.

There wasn't much work for him in Georgia, so rather than head to Saudi Arabia or Alaska, he opted for Texas. He had just married and his wife had family in Texas, so they settled in Corpus Christi.

"I was young and a little crazy," he said, describing how he once rode out a hurricane in the oil refinery where he worked. He joined the fire brigade and learned to put out refinery fires.

The family moved wherever Crowe found work. They relocated to metro Atlanta, where they lived in Marietta for 18 years and then returned to Texas. This time to suburban Houston.

In 1984, Crowe recalled, he was bitten on his right leg by a brown recluse spider. He didn't know he'd been bitten until he developed a staph infection that landed him in the hospital.

After he was released, he returned to work -- converting Davison's in Lenox Square to Macy's -- but began dragging his right leg. Another hospital stay and numerous tests revealed that Crowe had multiple sclerosis He was 31. Two days later, he learned he and his wife were going to have a baby.

He could no longer work as an electrician, so the Crowes used their savings to start two day-care centers in Marietta. They operated them until their liability insurance quadrupled in one year, forcing them to sell.

Next, they opened a flower shop, and then moved back to Texas to be closer to his wife's family. He said they had lived in Georgia, close to his parents and brothers for years, and he thought it only fair that his wife have the same chance with her family.

But his condition worsened, so he returned to Georgia. He separated from his wife, and then they divorced.

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic neurological disease. Something triggers an immune reaction that breaks down myelin, a fatty substance encasing nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. Without protective myelin, the brain's nerve signals are distorted. Hard bits of scar tissue, or scleroses, form on the damaged myelin.

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, symptoms can range from spasticity, tingling, numbness to paralysis. Every case is individual. Symptoms may appear and then disappear, and may vary in intensity. Most people are diagnosed in young adulthood, in their 20s and 30s, as Crowe was.

Despite his condition, his days remain full. Attendants help him get up early, about 5 a.m., "when it's real quiet here," he says. "I like it then." He usually gets on the Internet, checks and sends e-mail and surfs the Web for a while. He takes physical therapy and usually naps after lunch.

He met his last girlfriend, a Delaware resident with MS, while online. They corresponded, became close, and she came to Gwinnett a few times to see him. But when she proposed that they marry and move to Delaware, he broke it off, not wanting to leave his family in Georgia.

Crowe is taking a 120-lesson, evangelistic course online that's offered by Kirk Cameron, an actor in the "Left Behind" series. He says that it will help him witness to other people about his faith in God.

"With MS, you have your good days and your bad days, but you have to keep going," Crowe says. "You can't do nothing about it but keep on going."

© 2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution