When Justin Reckers was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2009, he already knew a lot more about the disease than most people. His fraternal twin had been diagnosed 15 years earlier, when the brothers were freshmen in college.
“At the time, we didn’t know anything about it,” says Reckers. “My first reaction is that I thought it would kill him. I didn’t know you could lead a long fulfilling life. The first thing I said to him was, ‘I wish it was me.’ I thought I was stronger and would do a better job of handling it.”
Reckers, now 33, may have been practically an expert on MS when he learned he had it, but he still doesn’t know exactly what’s in store for him. “Even if you’re a close relative, you can experience MS very differently,” he explains.
There are four types of MS, an unpredictable disease that causes the immune system to attack the central nervous system and disrupts the pathways within the brain and body, causing symptoms such as overwhelming fatigue, mobility issues, and visual problems.
The most common form of MS is Relapsing-Remitting (RRMS), which involves intermittent flare-ups of symptoms. Though most patients will eventually transition to Secondary-Progressive (SPMS), in which symptoms steadily worsen over time, a diagnosis is far from a death sentence. (The other two types of MS, including Primary-Progressive, are rarer and more debilitating.)
As a young man without a strong support system, Reckers’ brother struggled with his diagnosis of RRMS, opting to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs. “He didn’t handle it well initially and didn’t take care of himself, which is crucial. That may be why he had a worse experience than me.”
Reckers, the financial director of Pacific Wealth Management and a good-natured optimist, took a completely different approach to his diagnosis of RRMS. “I’m a young arrogant entrepreneur,” he laughs. “I’d probably tell you that I’m bulletproof and don’t need help.”
Instead, he’s made it his mission to help others. His natural leadership skills have become a strong asset to the Pacific South Coast Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, which hosts its annual MS Dinner Auction on November 22 at Loews Coronado Bay Resort. The MS Society provides a wide range of services to those living with the disease and raises millions of dollars for cutting-edge research like stem-cell therapy.
“I reached out to the MS Society and asked what board membership entailed,” says Reckers, whose company is a title sponsor of the upcoming fundraiser at Loews. “Before long, I was asked to chair committees, and then more committees. I haven’t said no to the MS Society yet!”
Reckers, who will serve as board chair in 2016/17, has told his brother’s story and his own at many fundraising events. “I get so much value out of sharing my story and hearing from others,” he says.
He’s frank about his fears — having two children who might be genetically predisposed to MS is probably the biggest — and encourages the newly diagnosed to be honest with loved ones. Despite his tough-as-nails front, Reckers found a particularly “awww”-inspiring source of support when his son Ashton was a toddler.
“I had to give myself a shot every day, and one time he heard me say ‘ouch.’ After that, every time he’d see me with the needle he’d run across the room saying, ‘Daddy, no!’ He didn’t want me to hurt myself. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room the last time I told that story.” (800.486.6762, www.msdinnerauction.com) ANNAMARIA STEPHENS
Photo by Bob Stefanko