May 6, 2004
The Boston Globe
Fifteen seconds. That's how long Dan Rattner figures it took a stranger to convince him that he should reverse a decade of deceit. Since he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1994, Rattner had allowed only his wife and a few close friends in on his secret. For everyone else he had an excuse. A sudden collapse at work was explained by a joke about ''moving walls." A bout of short-term memory loss prompted a quip about ''going senile."
''Dan," said his wife Barbara Green, ''became very good at not letting people know he had MS."
Rattner, 47, said he hid his diagnosis out of fear of what could happen if he owned up to having the disease, which attacks the central nervous system and includes symptoms that range from numbness in the limbs to paralysis and blindness. There is no cure for MS, which, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, afflicts over 400,000 people nationwide, including approximately 10,500 in Massachusetts.
''I didn't want anything to negatively impact my career," said Rattner, who was climbing the corporate ladder at Lotus Systems when doctors gave him the news. He has since become vice president of real estate administration at Polaroid. ''I used my personality and jokes to keep people from knowing. I didn't want the disease to define who I was."
And so Rattner continued the charade, until an elevator ride last month.
Leaving the Multiple Sclerosis Clinic at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston following an appointment, Rattner joined a woman and her husband in the elevator. The man was in a wheelchair. The woman looked at Rattner and then at her silent husband. Turning to Rattner, she said, ''You're one of the lucky ones."
''It hit me right then that I had no right hiding my MS," said Rattner. ''From that woman's perspective, I was lucky in that I could walk on my own. But I do have to deal with it, giving myself daily injections and wondering every day about the course the disease will take. After all, the majority of Dr. Kevorkian's patients that he helped with their suicides had MS. I figured it was time for me to do something."
Rattner said he immediately ''came out of the closet" and became a member of the board of trustees of the Central New England chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Closer to home, he joined his wife in promoting the ''Green Team," a group of 40 friends who in the past decade have raised over $100,000 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The Green Team, as it has every year since 1994, is scheduled to take part in the MS Walk, a 6.2-mile trek scheduled to start at the South Shore Community Center in Cohasset Village at 10 a.m. Saturday. Green and Rattner live on Old Coach Road in Cohasset.
''We're called the Green Team because when I wanted to do something to fight MS, back when Dan was diagnosed, he wouldn't let me name it after him," said Green. ''And so we used my last name."
Since that first walk, the team has earned a reputation as a fund-raising machine. Last year, it raised just under $30,000.
''Not many teams throughout the country raise a total of $100,000," said Arlyn White, president of the New England chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. ''The Green Team works hard."
For more information about the walk, call 800-493-9255 or visit www.msnewengland.org.
Copyright © 2004, The Globe Newspaper Company