October 30, 2003
The Salt Lake Tribune
Clay Walker was living the good life as a rising country music star when he received a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in 1996.
An active 26-year-old, Walker had experienced facial spasms and some numbness in his right leg and arm. But he thought he was suffering from Bell's palsy, a facial nerve disorder that affects 40,000 people nationwide a year.
"At first I was devastated," Walker said during a meeting Tuesday in Salt Lake City with about 400 people affected by MS. "But once I got all the facts from my neurologists, I realized there was something I could do since I caught it in the early stages."
Walker began daily injections of the drug Copaxone. He regained full feeling in his arm and leg and his facial spasms disappeared. He rides horses, tours the country with his band, plays with his two daughters and runs about a half hour a day. The drug worked so well that he wanted to let others know there are ways to cope with the disease.
In February, he formed the Band Against MS Foundation to help those with MS discover advances in drug treatments and therapies and raise money for research.
"Hopefully I can be an inspiration for people with this disease much
like Michael J. Fox has been with Parkinson's," Walker said.
Walker embarked on a 10-city speaking tour in which he tells his story, and physicians give updates on the fight against MS.
In the United States, between 350,000 and 400,000 people have been diagnosed with MS, usually in the prime of their lives.
Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, although in rare cases individuals as young as 2 and as old as 75 have developed it, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Twice as many women as men have MS.
The disease affects the central nervous system, causing such symptoms as blurred vision, loss of balance, poor coordination, slurred speech, tremors, numbness, extreme fatigue, problems with memory and concentration, paralysis and blindness.
There is no cure for MS, but in the 1990s researchers developed five new drugs to treat the disease, said John Rose, a neurologist at University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics and the Veterans Hospital in Salt Lake City.
"Our diagnostic powers are improving," Rose said. "Typically it is a disease that affects young adults in their most productive years, which can cause a lot of anxiety." Walker said he overcame his anxiety through his faith and family.
"We aren't in control over what happens with our flesh, but we are 100 percent in control of our attitude," Walker said. "No matter what your disabilities, you should push yourself to do as much as you can."
Since his debut in 1993, Walker has sold more than 8 million albums,
with 11 No. 1 singles. He released his seventh studio album, "A Few Questions,"
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