Friday, November 5, 1999
Of course, I didn't see him on a morning when he aches so much he winces to get out of bed. I wasn't there when he finished a tough day truck driving and fell on the couch in an exhausted heap. There were no reporters present when the Little League coach struggled silently to match his players' pace as his personal energy drained like bubbles down the sink. Alexander, 27, has multiple sclerosis. It's a nasty monster with no cure.
MS is a chronic, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms may include numbness in the limbs, severe paralysis or loss of vision. It affects as many as 350,000 Americans and is not hereditary or contagious, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Perhaps you've heard about MS regarding celebrity sufferers like Annette Funicello, Montel Williams or Richard Pryor. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40 but the unpredictable physical and emotional effects can be lifelong.
No one knows how debilitating the disease will become. Alexander looks at his future through the brown plastic tint of innumerable prescription bottles that line the bathroom shelves.
He has a fabulous support system. His wife, Jessica, is the researcher. She studies the disease and considers treatments for her husband.
"They are learning tons of things about MS now," Jessica Alexander said. "They are making strides with it. More and more drugs are coming."
His mother, Anita, who works at the Boeing Co., volunteered at a recent family festival for the National MS Society. She hopes to organize a fund-raiser in 2000 for both the Multiple Sclerosis Association and MS Society.
"The MS Society's focus is on research," Jared Alexander's mother said. "The MS Association is in the process of designing and building a care facility for patients. So often they end up in nursing homes. I have a hard time picturing someone like Jared, if he had no other choice, living with mostly older residents."
His mother said there is nothing worse than having an ill child.
"My list of priorities for Jared and his sister, Nicole, began with honesty, with others and themselves, and a sense of humor," she said. "I told them that health and happiness were the givens; the obvious things that always appear on everyone's list. In retrospect, I wish I would have prayed for their health first. Never did I think either of my children would have this kind of challenge."
Little more than a year ago, Jared Alexander noticed numbness here and there and frequent urination. He didn't think much of it, he said, but eventually went in for a checkup. He was referred to a neurologist.
"The worst case was always MS," Jared Alexander said. "It was the worst case."
Lesions were found in his brain, and there may be some in his lower spine.
"I'm the kind of person who holds it inside," he said. "I was scared."
He is also the kind of person who seldom misses work at CSR Associated because of illness.
His mother and wife are a rah-rah team for the patient. They told me he has always been artistic. He designed and built the dining room table in their Everett home. Beautiful, artistic three-dimensional fish hang on the wall. His wife said her husband is an excellent cartoonist.
Before he was diagnosed, he designed his own volunteer project. He distributed a flier around town offering to do chores or lawn work for anyone who needed it.
"The only payment he wanted was a smile," his mother said. "It says so much about his character."
When he isn't volunteering, coaching Little League, working and enjoying his artistic hobbies, Jared Alexander is learning how important diet and exercise are in his fight against MS.
"I avoid red meat," he said. "They say to keep the body temperature down -- no hot tubs. Diet and exercise have everything to do with keeping up the immune system."
When he has what he calls an episode, he gets very tired. He takes many medications, including injections.
His wife says they're a team. If only teamwork could make a dent in this awful disease. If ever a young couple deserved a better start in their married life, the Alexanders are it. They need to keep up their strength to party with Ruth Harris, 79, Jared Alexander's grandmother, who lives in Everett. Harris likes to dance the night away at clubs.
"She is the sweetest woman on the earth," Jared Alexander said. "It kills me to know she worries about me."
We all worry about young people facing a health crisis. At least this man is keeping a positive attitude.
"I like what was written: 'We have MS, it doesn't have us,' " he said. "It becomes another part of your daily life."
He's put his childhood dream of becoming a firefighter on hold. I imagine
now when he falls asleep, he thinks about the joy of simply feeling good
in the morning.