Day by day
MS changes lives, families
By LIZ THOMPSON
Tuesday March 18, 2014
Tim and Tyler Heaton, 19, of Westerville, know firsthand that life holds no guarantees. “Many people take things for granted such as financial stability and a healthy family,” Tim said.
“I have learned that these things are not guaranteed.” Tyler added, “We have kept a positive family attitude which has had a huge impact on our lives.”
Their mom, Leeandra, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Tim and Tyler were 10. They remember the day the world changed for all of them when she couldn’t get out of bed and had to be hospitalized. They had planned a vacation with another family, and their mother insisted they go without her. Their sister, Brynna, 8, stayed home.
Tim said, “Upon returning home, my mom explained that the doctors believed her to have multiple sclerosis, and I recall just blankly staring and — as much as I hate to admit it — just dismissing it as some kind of ailment obtained from age. I first thought that she would simply take some kind of medication to get better or go through physical therapy to strengthen her body, but I turned out to be incorrect about a lot of those things.”
“When anyone hears someone say that they have a cold or strep throat … people always say, ‘I hope you feel better and take it easy,’ but when a 10-year-old hears the word ‘disease,’ there is a different reaction,” Tyler said. “I did what I was best at and just smiled and said everything was going to be OK. This was not the day that we as a family really understood that this disease was going to negatively impact our life.”
These boys reacted much like anyone might without knowing exactly what this diagnosis might mean. Their comments make perfect sense, especially given their age at the time. Years later, their compassion for their mom has only deepened.
The twins each won a scholarship from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society that is helping them as electrical engineering students at Ohio State University.
Tim uses a metaphor to express his thoughts. “If high tide and low tide are compared to sunrise and sunset, then everything in between can be compared as the events in a day. If the ocean is calm and predictable, it is manageable and pleasant. Once the storm hits, though, the ocean no longer is simply ‘manageable.’
“Rather, there are precautions, steps and planning that is necessary to ride these waves. I sailed the waves, and sailing the roaring ocean has taught me life lessons that I feel that some people will not realize for several years, specifically that financial stability and a healthy family are taken for granted. Growing up in a not-as-typical environment prepared me for college and the world ahead of me, and I am quite thankful for everything that has happened to me up to date.”
When their mom was diagnosed with MS, things became financially difficult. The process to apply for Social Security benefits is long and tedious.
The family chooses to turn it into a positive outcome. When her MS flares up, they make sure that everything else she experiences is positive.
Leeandra said the disease brought changes to her life, but it has not taken joy away. “I think that when I was first diagnosed, I didn’t know what to expect. I have figured out that it is just best to not expect the worst.”
“(We) believe that all a bad situation needs is a little bit of happiness to fix things,” Tyler said.
March is MS Awareness Month. More than 20,000 people in Ohio have MS and, as you can see, it affects the entire family.
When I was diagnosed in 1987, there were no drugs for MS. That was 27 years ago, and thanks to research, there are now 10. The largest portion of donations to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society is used for research and programs for those living with MS.
MS is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system. Symptoms are unpredictable, ranging from numbness and weakness to total paralysis. It is typically diagnosed between ages 20-50, although the disease has been diagnosed in children as young as 3, with an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 children under the age of 18 living with MS.
The Ohio Buckeye Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society offers assistance and information for people living with MS and their families.
For more information, call 1-800-FIGHT-MS (344-4867) or http://www.msohiobuckeye.org/