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Changing Lives: National MS Society


Martin Valdivia speaks haltingly, each careful word revealing a hint of a struggle. Valdivia’s voice — like much of his body — has been degenerated by multiple sclerosis, a potentially disabling disease that interrupts the flow of information from the brain to the body.

Every hour, someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with MS. More than 45,000 people are affected in
S.D., Orange, and Imperial counties alone. Worldwide, that number is a staggering 2.5 million. The disease’s progress is unpredictable and symptoms range greatly in severity, from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis.

Valdivia was first diagnosed in 1998, when his initial symptoms became outwardly obvious. “People said I had a broken wheel because my right foot would tap the floor twice,” he says. “It was a weird walk.”

His doctor urged him to seek information about MS online, where he found the Pacific South Coast Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. “Anything you could possibly need, they’ll help you with it,” Valdivia says. “When I needed a wheelchair ramp for my van, they helped me. When I had questions, they answered them.”

The MS Society offers info about community and health resources, as well as activities, outreach, and educational programs. Most important, the nonprofit’s professional staff help individuals with MS learn about the disease, develop strategies for symptom management, maintain positive relationships, and live as independently as possible.

For Valdivia, independent living is no longer possible. He is now a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic who lives with his mother. She helps care for him, as does his loving extended family.

Some might say Valdivia is unlucky — his symptoms fall on the severest end of the spectrum. But he emphasizes how truly fortunate he is. “I think about the people who are home-stricken and don’t have the support that I have,” he says. “I can’t even imagine.”

Valdivia and his family — “Team Valdivia” — are active fundraisers for MS, particularly in the annual Walk MS, just one of many events held locally. Among those, the most important is the MS Dinner Auction — this year sponsored by Pacific Wealth Management — a grand black-tie charity event that has taken place for two decades at Loews Coronado Bay, which has helped make the gala a smashing success. This year’s November 19 fête marks its 25th anniversary.  (www.msdinnerauction.com)

At some of the MS Society functions he attends, Valdivia notices MS sufferers who seem depressed, which saddens him because despite his situation, he is eternally optimistic. “I’ve heard of people who go into remission,” he says. “That might be me someday!”

He has some advice for those who instead dwell on the “Why me?”

“Multiple sclerosis is not a death sentence. You can still have a life worth living. And maybe we can find a cure someday.” For more information, please contact the National MS Society. (800/486-6762, www.mspacific.org)    ANNAMARIA STEPHENS


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