More MS news articles for Oct 2001

New paths open after career lost

Friday, October 19, 2001
Story last updated at 7:54 p.m. on Thursday, October 18, 2001

Donnie Wanstall had a wonderful life.

As a professional caddie on the PGA Tour, Wanstall got to travel the country with his wife, Pat, be around a game he loved and hang out with people he liked and admired. And, as caddie for Mark O'Meara, one of the best in the business, Wanstall made terrific money.

But on the second day of the 1994 Players Championship, something strange happened. Two holes into O'Meara's round, it started raining. Wanstall caught a ride back to the clubhouse on a golf cart. When he got under a roof, he noticed that he was soaked with rain from the chest down. And didn't feel a thing.

Wanstall did what a lot of us do when our bodies give us peculiar signals. He tried to ignore the numbness in his body. But his legs wouldn't let him, lapsing into violent spasms.

When the final diagnosis came in, Wanstall learned he had multiple sclerosis, an illness that affects more than 350,000 Americans.

The causes of MS are unknown. It is not genetic, nor is it contagious. But once it begins to attack the communication network of the central nervous system, it results in debilitating symptoms that include fatigue, weakness, spasticity, balance problems, bladder and bowel problems, numbness, vision loss, tremor and vertigo.

It's a poorly understood disease that is getting more exposure thanks to the travails of the fictional American President Josiah Bartlett, played by Martin Sheen on the NBC drama series The West Wing, which Wanstall said was his favorite television show even before the producers introduced Bartlett's MS into the story.

Wanstall's symptoms include a general numbness in his body below the chest and fatigue, which can make merely walking around the block of his Atlantic Beach neighborhood exhausting. That day it rained on The Players Championship, his career ended.

But after neck surgery last year, his condition has generally stabilized. After years of depending on disability insurance, investments and his wife's income, Wanstall is employed again, working out of his house for Guide to Golf, a publisher affiliated with the PGA Tour.

He also has become, as he demonstrated this week when he spoke at The Players Championship's second annual Community Impact Luncheon, a passionate advocate for both The National Multiple Sclerosis Society North Florida Chapter and the PGA Tour.

Wanstall hasn't received financial help directly from the Tour. But he credits the men on the tour, especially O'Meara, with helping him survive the financial crisis his illness caused. O'Meara paid many of Wanstall's medical bills, then organized a fund-raiser in October 1994 that generated $160,000. Some of that went to help Wanstall, the rest helped launch The Professional Caddies Assistance Foundation.

Wanstall, who serves on the board of the local MS society chapter, has himself become an aggressive fund-raiser for MS. Last year he organized a successful charity golf tournament, with O'Meara as his main attraction. "He's wonderful," said Jennifer Lee, president of the local chapter. "Anything we've needed done, he's done."

Wanstall said he considers himself, all in all, to be a lucky guy. Which makes him a hero for our times: Someone who suffered a terrifying setback but survived and, in a small way, even prevailed.

"I don't have anything at all to complain about," Wanstall told me. "In fact, I owe something to a lot of other people. I had some bad luck. But life goes on."

Charlie Patton's column appears on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Contact him at or (904) 359-4413.

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