CBSN

Improving Life With MS

Multiple Sclerosis, MW
AP / CBS
Suzan Black is a married mother of one, and a study in courage, reports xxx xxxxxx

On her honeymoon in 1981, she experienced vision problems and numbness. One month later, suzan was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Back then, doctors had a simple suggestion: "Just sit down and be quiet and be a good girl, and, you know, work if it's not too much, but no children, no exercise, basically, you know, your life is over.

The newlywed gave her husband an out, but Bill Black never considered leaving.

As the disease began to progress, Suzan's physical abilities were compromised.

"There's a whole tape that runs in my mind with every step that I take. Because I don't want to trip. I don't want to lose my balance," says Suzan. It's a constant mental process that I have to go through."

Suzan worked on and off for three years. At times she battled alcohol. In 1987, Suzan became pregnant. She waited four months before telling her doctors. Their reaction was not positive.

"Mad. Angry," she says. "They were lookin' at me like I'm not a good patient."

Suzan was lucky. She felt good throughout her pregnancy. Her son, Andrew, is 16 now.

"He's my pride and joy. I can't imagine our lives... without him," she says.

Multiple sclerosis can strike anyone at any time. It is America's most prevalent neurological disease, afflicting 400,000 people, mostly women.

In 1970, six years after Jimmie Heuga won an Olympic medal in alpine skiing, a neurologist told him he had MS.

"He said you should really stay away from exercise," recalls Heuga. "The problem was, exercise is all I'd ever done."

He sat still for six years, before making a distinction between the disease and his health.

"I'd go, 'Well I'm not sick, I just have MS,'" he says.

That attitude led to a revolution. Exercise made him feel better, physically, and mentally.

UCLA Professor of Neurology Barbara Giesser has been working with The Heuga Center for 10 years. Their can-do program teaches people with MS what they can do, instead of telling them what they can't do.

"Since Jimmie started the program 20 years ago, we actually have evidence-based data that proves to us what Jimmie instinctively knew - that exercise is good for people with MS," says Giesser.

Suzan Black learned this first hand when she recently attended a can do clinic.

After five days of physical testing, instruction, and classroom lectures, Suzan and Bill came away with a new game plan.

"You may not do it the same as everybody else that doesn't have MS," Suzan says, "but that doesn't mean that you can't do it."

There is no cure for MS now, but doctors have gone from alleviating symptoms to actually treating patients.