Sunday, October 25, 2009

Oregon governor candidate with MS campaigns on Segway

From The AP:

SALEM, Ore. — Bill Bradbury (pictured) isn't just running for Oregon governor. He's zipping — on a Segway.

Using the personal transporter is one way the Democratic politician deals with the effects of multiple sclerosis. He was diagnosed with the disease 30 years ago, but that hasn't stopped him from becoming one of the most exuberant and popular figures on Oregon's political scene.

Tall and lanky, he glides into campaign events on his electric standup vehicle, his booming laugh often heralding his arrival.

The disease has affected his physical skills, he says, but not his mental abilities or his capacity to govern.

"I get energized by the challenge of this campaign," he says. "I really feel like the disability doesn't interfere with my ability to serve the people of this state."

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society in New York says Bradbury is the only candidate with MS running for a statewide office in 2010 that it knows of. Spokeswoman Arney Rosenblat said the group is delighted Bradbury deals openly with his condition.

"He certainly is a role model, particularly for people who are newly diagnosed with MS and may be uncertain about their future," Rosenblat says. "It's important for them to see that they can fulfill their potential and pursue their dreams."

She notes that Bradbury isn't the only officeholder with MS to achieve prominence, citing two former members of Congress, Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota and Rep. Barbara Jordan of Texas. A current member of Congress, Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy of Ohio, was diagnosed with the disease in 2003.

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms range from reduced mobility and numbness to blindness and paralysis.

Mentally, Bradbury is sharp, but physically, the MS has taken a toll. He has a noticeable limp and unsteady gait, and he tires after standing or walking for too long. Over the years, he's taken to using a sit-down scooter and cane. He began using the Segway a few weeks ago.

"There's been a slow progression in my disease, but I stay pretty loudmouthed and active," he says.

The story line from the popular TV series "The West Wing" doesn't apply in Bradbury's case. Unlike the fictional President Josiah Bartlet, played by Martin Sheen from 1999 to 2006, Bradbury hasn't hidden the MS. He went public in 1983 at a Labor Day picnic on Oregon's south coast.

Organizers asked Bradbury, then a state legislator, to make a few remarks, and he appeared wobbly as he walked to the stage. He then took the microphone and told people about his disease.

"I decided it probably would be better for people to know I had a disability rather than thinking I was drunk," he says.

Since then, MS has not been an issue in his campaigns. He says questions about his health are valid, but he insists the disease won't affect his ability to govern.

Bradbury has his work cut out for him in the race to succeed Gov. Ted Kulongoski. John Kitzhaber, governor from 1995-2003, is widely regarded as the favorite to win May's Democratic primary.

Kitzhaber and Bradbury are longtime friends, serving together in the Oregon Legislature from the early 1980s. Kitzhaber appointed Bradbury as Oregon secretary of state in 1999. Despite the friendship, Bradbury makes it plain that at age 60, he considers this his best shot at an open governor's seat and that he's as qualified as anyone to be governor.

Since announcing for the office a few weeks ago, Bradbury has kept up a steady stream of campaign appearances. He says it takes planning to pace himself and not get overtired.

"I work pretty hard to manage the disease, with a low-saturated-fat diet and acupuncture," he says. His doctors say that combination works as well for him as a drug regimen, he says.

Dr. Dennis Bourdette, chairman of the Department of Neurology at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, says Bradbury appears to be up to the tasks of running and serving.

"There's no reason why somebody with MS can't hold high office," he says. "Just because somebody has problems walking doesn't mean their brain is not working properly."

Bourdette says MS affects patients in differing ways. That Bradbury has been in public office for years and been a vigorous campaigner is a good sign he can withstand the rigors ahead, he says.

"The best predictor of how somebody's going to do with their MS in a given job is their history, how they've done in the past," Bourdette says.

Bradbury says he spends his campaign time talking about creating jobs, improving education and protecting the environment.

"But if other people think of me as a role model, that's wonderful," he says. "I hope I can inspire some people to realize they can face their challenges and overcome them."