My friend Patti Bernhardt was kind enough to contribute an article to "Biking MS" this week. This is a must-read story about how MS has affected her family, but also a story about one of the toughest women I know. In my opinion, this will likely be the best article you will have read on this site all year.
"Two years ago my brother died of pneumonia as a result of MS. Well, really MS is what I say he had. He had Devic's syndrome, a special form of MS known to be severe. There were around 2000 cases in the world when he was diagnosed. The disease and treatment closely follow MS and research and work done by the MS society helps those with Devic's.
It all started 12 years ago when my brother Tommy was having some leg pain. He was literally walking into the building for a doctors appointment to check out the pain when it got so bad he needed to sit down on a park bench. He never walked again. He was 35 years old. Quickly he was paralyzed from the rib cage down and lost sight in one eye. Additional attacks would affect the vision in his other eye, the use of his arms. Luckily through treatment these came back. When diagnosed the prognosis was 5-15 years. He knew the battle ahead of him. Did I mention his wife was pregnant with their first child when he was diagnosed? To say he had a lot to live for is an understatement. He battled the deterioration of his body, difficult rehabilitation, depression, difficulties with family, friends. But his son Jeffrey was the center of his life. Guaranteed smiles. He saw Jeffrey turn 10 years old shortly before he died. I wish they could have had more time together and at the same time thankful they had the time they did.
There are a few images of Tommy that stick with me from the time he was sick. One day he took his dog out for a "run" while he raced along in his motorized scooter. He didn't notice his foot was dragging the whole time and it was a banged up mess by the time he got back. The simple task of exercising the dog is not so simple when you are paralyzed. Another is visiting him in hospice and watching him struggle for breath. I was so mad at the world. Life is so unfair. I had just started doing triathlons again after a long break and thought that no matter how hard it gets, it is nothing compared to what Tommy is going through. Then it was time to say goodbye.
My health and determination are a gift. A gift I am more aware of because of Tommy. I recently completed Boise 70.3, a local half ironman. This was a race I always thought I would do "someday" when the kids are older, blah, blah. Then I thought, life is short, do it now. It was really hard. Training was consuming and I had unplanned gall bladder surgery 17 days before the race. Recovery went well and I raced. Not particularly well, but I finished. And that means I won! Do I run triathlons for my brother? No, I run triathlons because I love them. And I can. And remembering my brother is that push when I need it most.
That pretty much sums up my MS story. Support people and causes that are important to you and cherish the gift of health. Walk the dog, climb a mountain, go to a yoga class, bike to work, whatever you love that gets you moving. And take as many people along with you as you can.
This story really touches me - there are a lot of parallels here with me, for one thing - having both lost brothers in their prime. But you also have to love that contagious positive attitude and determination. I was at Patti's house shortly after her surgery, watching a formula one race with her husband, Greg. I could see Patti was in some pain, but was already talking about the walk she was going to take that afternoon, and how she was going to go ahead and do the Ironman race that was coming up in just two weeks. I'm fortunate to know Patti and many others here in Boise who motivate me to stay active and fit, and try things that I would not have imagined doing just a few short years ago.
Thanks so much for sharing, Patti.