Published Thursday, October 7, 1999, in the San Jose Mercury News
BY ALBERT DEKELAITA
KARI WAS just 18 when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is a chronic, often disabling disease with mild to severe physical and emotional effects that can be lifelong. The progress, severity and specific symptoms cannot be predicted in advance: Some people experience slight numbness of the limbs that comes and goes, while others may be paralyzed and suffer vision loss.
This is what Kari had to face just as she was entering the most exciting time of her life. A few years later, this is what I had to come to grips with as our relationship grew. Kari didn't have the choice of walking away from her diagnosis. I did! Ironically, though, I became attracted to her for reasons that were probably directly related to her having to deal with multiple sclerosis.
Life throws obstacles in everyone's path. Some are small, some large, some lifestyle-altering. How one deals with these hardships depends on one's character. Kari was dealt a challenge with an unknown outcome. She responded by confronting the issues head-on.
She understands how precious good health is and doesn't take it for granted. Her enthusiasm and desire to seek new experiences is obvious and magnetic.
However, it took time and outside help to accept the reality of her disease. Her family provided love, her friends support, but she felt she needed to talk to someone who could relate to her situation and answer some of her questions. She learned of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and greatly benefited from its kind staff and volunteers. Kari was so influenced by their support that she wanted to assist others like her.
She has been a peer support volunteer and a panel speaker at seminars aimed at the newly diagnosed. She has also participated in public awareness activities on television and radio, in support group settings and fundraising events such as the annual MS Walk.
In recognition of the volunteer work she does for the local chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and for her success in high-tech recruiting, as well as for her ability to overcome myriad obstacles while living with a debilitating illness, Kari will receive the 1999 MS Achievement Award at the chapter's Oct. 13 Dinner of Champions.
Kari has always believed that things happen for a reason and she has answered her initial question of ``Why me?'' with ``Because I have an ability to reach people and show them they can still achieve despite adversity.'' Conversely, she has admitted to me that she also draws courage and strength from such interactions and from those who accept her unconditionally.
I personally had to do some searching to find strength within myself to accept her condition. When Kari first told me she had MS, I wasn't concerned because she seemed fine and we weren't thinking about the long term. As we became closer, however, I realized that I had to deal with this issue if we were going to grow our relationship.
Still, it was easy to ignore her MS because she was healthy and showed little to no outward signs. Occasionally she would get numbness or tingling in parts of her body, or she would tire prematurely. But what was always in the back of my mind was the question of whether I was capable of dealing with the hardships MS can bring.
The question became more than I could handle and we split up for a while because I was unsure of myself. The time apart, however, made me realize that I had met someone extraordinary. Someone like no one I had ever met.
We've been together now for more than six years, married for more than two. We have had our peaks and valleys. In fact, for several weeks during the writing of this article, Kari experienced numbness in much of her body. The episode weakened much of her coordination and balance and kept her very fatigued. She didn't even have the strength and balance to walk across the room.
As I write these words, she is just recovering. Throughout it all, her spirit stayed strong. There was an outpouring of love from parents, family, friends and co-workers. Her strength even inspired her brother to write a couple of new songs for his band.
I didn't have any of the fear I once thought would be too great for
me to cope with. I've learned that what may seem insurmountable can be
overcome with the right motivation. I have found my motivation.
Albert deKelaita lives in San Jose.