Julian E. Endsley, 32, K.C.C.H.

Only by continued medical research and loving care for the victims of MS, Multiple Sclerosis, can we hope to understand and lessen the tragedy of this debilitating disease.

The root cause of multiple sclerosis, commonly called MS, is unknown. Some virus that comes, does its damage, and then leaves is highly suspect among probable causes, but no specific virus has yet been isolated.

A neurological disease attacks the myelin sheath, the insulation around motor nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord, and damages or destroys it in several (multiple) areas in the nervous system. Plaques of hardened tissue (sclerosis) replace the destroyed myelin tissue and interrupt the transmission of nerve impulses, sometimes completely obstructing impulses along many nerves.

The results can include any combination of impaired sensation including uncontrolled bowel or bladder function or paralysis of the extremities, tremor, drastic weakness, slurred speech, tingling, numbness, severe lack of coordination, loss of equilibrium, double or blurred vision, rapid involuntary movement of the eyes (nystagmus), hypersensitivity to changes in temperature as little as one or two degrees, mild to excruciating pain, and very intense recurrent fatigue.

Often MS victims are physically unable to carry out the simplest movements or, for example, operate the controls of an automated wheelchair. They cannot be left unattended under electric blankets because they cannot turn them on or off. That means, of course, they cannot dress or feed themselves, or get in or out of bed without help. They cannot be left alone in a bathtub lest they slip into a position with their faces below water level.

Either of the two radically different types of MS onset can begin at any time, usually starting in the 20s or 30s, but can start in the teens or as late as the 50s. The grave type is a sudden and brutal disabling of motor functioning which is easily diagnosed. The insidious type can take years to diagnose and may begin with momentary slurred speech or loss of equilibrium.

In the latter type, friends at a party may think the victim has had one drink too many when he or she has had none. Similarly, a traffic cop, in telling a person with insidious MS to walk a line or visually follow a moving pencil, may deduce from the personís imbalance that he or she is intoxicated.

The mental and emotional state of more unfortunate victims is a living hell, more dreaded sometimes than the physical debilitation. Despairing in frustration and pain, these MS victims often have irrational emotional outbursts which drive family and friends away. Sex lives end altogether, sometimes in the thirties, social activity declines and stops, and exciting careers end. The vibrancy of life dies, and a spouse, possibly a valuable professional employee or business person, often becomes a dysfunctional automaton.

The author wishes it were different. He wishes he were writing somebody elseís life story. He isnít. He is writing his own. For 30 of 34 years of marriage, his wife has had insidious MS. A professional mathematician, she lost her career along with any form of quality personal life.

With no cures and no public outcry, MS victims often remain hidden at home. The popularity of entertainers like actress Annette Funicello (Mrs. Glen Holt) and actor Richard Pryor, both MS victims, benefits funding for research. But when telethon events on the order of Jerry Lewisí involvement in muscular dystrophy fade from the airways, so does MS research funding disappear from the publicís consciousness.

Presently, there are no cures. However, patients frequently respond to a combination of anti-depressants, social support, physical therapy, and a minimum of medication. Betaseron and Avonex, trade names for certain interferons, occur naturally in human tissues as proteins and interfere with viral regeneration, but how they work is still a mystery. They have been helpful to patients with exacerbation/remission symptoms, but lack benefits for others with chronic progressive symptoms. Genetic studies have begun to show some promise, but no breakthroughs are imminent.

The keys to future success in combatting this dread disease are continued and intensified researsh supported by sustained, not just occasional, public awareness. Multiple Sclerosis will not yield easily, but it, too, can be conquered if we but have the will to persist in seeking a final cure. Please contact the National MS Society in your area and, if interested, designate any contributions to research.

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