May 1, 2004
The Salt Lake Tribune
Actress Teri Garr says there are no good parts in Hollywood for women over 50, so she's taken on a different role, crisscrossing the United States, talking to people about her experiences with multiple sclerosis.
Garr, 54, who earned an Oscar nomination for her performance in 1982's "Tootsie," has suffered symptoms of MS since the early 1980s, but wasn't diagnosed with the auto-immune disease until 1999.
"I had a really hard time with my diagnosis," she said during a recent phone interview. "I would trip and have tingling in my foot or my arm. Back then, it was difficult to get a diagnosis, and a lot of doctors thought you were crazy."
Garr will be in Salt Lake City at The Grand America hotel on Saturday to discuss her battle with MS during a free program sponsored by drug companies Serono Inc. and Pfizer Inc. She believes open communication, humor and a support team help people deal with the often debilitating illness.
"I personally believe that you have to be calm," she said. "I'm a single mom, and there's always 25,000 things to do. I have to take it easy, so a lot of things don't get done. But I really believe that if you keep a positive attitude that helps."
Garr self-injects a drug called Rebif three times a week to control her MS. "I usually inject it into my stomach or leg. You can do it in your butt if you're a contortionist," she joked.
Garr will be joined by John Steffens, a neurologist and assistant professor of neurology at the University of Utah. Although researchers have made advances in the treatment of MS, there is still not much known about the disease that affects the central nervous system.
"What we think happens with MS is you're born with that predisposition and then something triggers it from the environment," Steffens said.
"Then the immune system attacks the coating around the nerves in the brain and spinal cord.
"Right now we don't have a way to reverse anything. The drugs calm down the immune system so it's not as likely to attack the body."
Steffens said studies suggest that the further north from the equator you are, the higher the prevalence of MS. In addition, people of northern European heritage are predisposed to MS.
"No one knows why," Steffens said. "One of the theories is that a Vitamin D deficiency may contribute. The further you are away from the equator the less sun you get."
About 24,500 Utahns are afflicted with MS, Steffens said.
Some of the symptoms of MS include vision loss, loss of balance, dizziness, weakness and numbness and tingling. Steffens recommends seeing your general practitioner for screening if you're experiencing any of those symptoms.
He expects the mystery of MS to dissipate as more research is done.
"It's a tremendously explosive field of research,"
Steffens said. "There's a lot of hope for the next five to 10 years."
Living with MS
Copyright © 2004, The Salt Lake Tribune