October 10, 2002, Thursday
By Nicole M. White
The Associated Press State & Local Wire
Pompton Lakes, N.J.
While his teammates rush back and forth in a run-and-catch drill, Joshua Adams takes a break. His shoulder pads heave with each breath he takes.
Joshua is 13, but at 5-foot-10, he is taller than the adults on the field. He's the biggest guy on the Pompton Lakes Cardinals. He loves football, but he needs to take a break sometimes.
In May, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a neurological disease that affects balance and nerve control. He's in the early stages of it, and things are uncertain. He's learning how to deal with being a normal teenager one minute and then being unable to hold a pencil or even get out of bed the next.
One thing is clear, though: He's alone. He is one of very few children diagnosed with a disease that affects less than a half-million Americans.
MS is so rare in children that it took three neurologists to figure out why Joshua was having severe migraines and dizzy spells. His mom, Amy Walton, thought he was just suffering a football injury. When he couldn't move from his bed for three weeks, though, she knew it was something more serious.
"I was in denial. We were like, 'There's no way,"' she said. "If your child is sick, listen. If I hadn't listened, I would have thought it was just football, growing pains."
Joshua doesn't want people to feel sorry for him, though. Looking at him, curly-haired and handsome, no one would know he's living with MS. When his doctor says he can't play football, he cheers his team from the sidelines. He does crunches every night.
"And he's trying to get abs!" said his sister, Miante, 9.
The only thing that gives him away is when he's absent from school. Those days are hard.
He wants others to know about the disease. On Nov. 8, with his uncle, he will host a fund-raiser banquet. The proceeds will go toward MS research and also will help out with Joshua's medical bills.
So little is known about MS and children that his uncle wants to get the word out. The only support groups in the area are for adults, and Joshua cannot relate.
"I am living a normal kind of life," he said, but it's still not easy. "I feel sometimes worthless when I can't do things, when I'm weak."
This is a boy who, at 7, had to be taken out of flag football and put into tackle because he played like a guy much older than his age.
"I love to hit, love to win games and love to be with my friends," he said.
He hopes one day to work with his hands, in some kind of trade. His wish is not impossible.
"They're trying to find cures," he said.
© Copyright 2002, The Associated Press State & Local Wire