With multiple sclerosis (MS) affecting more than 2 million people worldwide – including thousands of our nation’s veterans – Paralyzed Veterans of America joins the Multiple Sclerosis Society in recognizing MS Awareness Week March 3-9, 2014.
MS is a life-altering disease that attacks myelin in the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves, interrupting the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. The disease is characterized by unpredictable onsets of symptoms – from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis – as well as remissions and relapses and is often difficult to diagnose.
Each year, the National MS Society recognizes MS Awareness Week through its “Every Connection Counts” campaign, which emphasizes the physical and emotional connections the disease destroys and seeks to better connect the public, health professionals and researchers in an effort to move closer to a world free of MS.
Paralyzed Veterans of America started accepting MS members in 1947, and members Scott Bates and Alan Klingensmith are two of the more than 4,000 Paralyzed Veterans members living with MS.
Bates says his MS started in the mid-1980s while he was a Marine with the 2nd and 4rd Battalion, 5th Marines. Very little was known about MS at that time, causing doctors to misdiagnose him with everything from depression to being told he was crazy. In 2005, the disease progressed to the point where Scott had to be in a wheelchair.
“I can still stand, but I have no balance and cannot take steps,” Bates says. “Without the help of my wonderful family to assist me to do other things like moving from my chair to the bed, I would be lost.”
While most would be discouraged by the life-changing diagnosis of MS, Bates turned it into an opportunity to pursue a new talent and passion – graphic design. He has designed logos for charities representing everything from MS to breast cancer and continues to be a strong advocate for MS research.
Klingensmith, a Marine from 1996-2000, was diagnosed with MS in 2009, though he showed symptoms of the disease as early as the late 1990s. He has continued to keep himself and others educated on the disease, and says he hopes future research will focus on providing a more holistic approach to treating MS. He pointed to books like The China Study that promote the consumption of a whole-food, plant-based diet for reducing or reversing the development of several diseases.
“There are side effects to all medications for treating MS, and I would rather see a holistic way of treating it rather than doing an injection or a pill that my have other side effects later,” Klingensmith says. “It’s bad enough having MS, let alone worrying about what medications could create for you down the road.”
Klingensmith also pointed to the need for more awareness among the public that MS in some cases can be an invisible disease, meaning an individual with MS may look well but have several underlying and sometimes debilitating physical symptoms.
“A lot of people will question why you’re getting VA benefits for MS when you don’t look sick,” he said. “Every day you are fighting migraines, depression, bowel and bladder issues and achiness throughout your body. Every day is a constant fight, but you try to be as strong as you can.”
Learn more about multiple sclerosis (MS)
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.