Thursday, December 9, 2010

Maryland state senator reveals she's had MS for 15 years

From The Baltimore Sun:

Since she first entered politics, state Sen. Lisa A. Gladden (pictured) has kept a secret. More than a decade later, she wants to share it on her own terms: Gladden has multiple sclerosis.

It's not all that dramatic, she says. Except for a weak left eye, the 46-year-old Baltimore Democrat says she is symptom-free.

So why is she going public now about a condition she has kept to herself, her family and a handful of friends since she was first diagnosed in 1995?

Gladden says she's tired of keeping the diagnosis a secret — as if it were something to be embarrassed about.

"I didn't want to get outed until I was ready," she said during a recent interview at her office at the state public defender's service, where she works the nine months the General Assembly is not in session. "I guess I'm ready."

Part of her reason for coming forward now, Gladden said, is that she'd like to help clear up some misconceptions about a disease that affects an estimated 400,000 Americans and that many still think of as catastrophic.

"They think MS is terminal or something. It's not a death sentence," she said. "The more people know, the more people can work together, the more they can make it less daunting for people who have been recently diagnosed."

In fact, MS can manifest itself in many different ways — from a debilitating condition to one that remains dormant and symptom-free for decades.

"It comes in different flavors, just like 31 flavors of Baskin-Robbins," said Gladden, who was elected to her third term in the Senate last month.

MS is a chronic disease that affects the nervous system, stripping away the protective coating of nerve fibers and interfering with signals between the brain and the body. Its precise cause is unknown, though some people might have a genetic predisposition to developing the condition.

In rare cases, the disease can result in near-total paralysis, but milder symptoms are more common. They can include speech problems, chronic fatigue, lack of balance or mobility and impaired vision. Or someone with MS can have none of the above.

Mark Roeder, president of the Maryland chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, said many people mix up MS with more devastating conditions.

"They confuse MS with muscular dystrophy and a variety of other — what we call sound-alike — diseases," he said.