Tracy Fehd’s story of living with multiple sclerosis shared at the Portage Common Council meeting Thursday punctuated an easy decision for Mayor Bill Tierney.
The city declared March 7-13 MS Awareness Week after the Divine Savior Healthcare employee came forward with information and experience regarding the disease, one that has affected at least 2.3 million people worldwide.
But it isn’t about numbers, agreed Fehd and Tierney.
“What really hit me is her message: Don’t judge other people,” Tierney said. “I wasn’t aware about all the different stages of multiple sclerosis. It really affects different people in different ways.”
Fehd, who works in nursing administration at the hospital, told city leaders how her journey began in 2013 with severe fatigue and double vision in her right eye. After appointments with many doctors, assistants, nurse practitioners, chiropractors and eye doctors, a neurologist ordered a CT scan that revealed Fehd had Lyme’s disease.
Later, a spinal tap and MRI of Fehd’s brain and spine showed lesions that revealed something else.
“That day,” Fehd said, “I became more than a mother of two daughters, the wife of an amazing man and a full-time employee of Divine Savior Healthcare, but a person with multiple sclerosis.”
Fehd described Thursday the many symptoms that “tag along” with MS, including extreme fatigue, depression and numbness. Part of the difficulty, she said, is the “guessing game” of deciphering whether new symptoms are related to MS or something else.
“Sometimes we can’t find the words when talking, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not intelligent,” Fehd said. “Sometimes we drop things, stumble, trip or fall, that doesn’t mean we’re clumsy or we’re drunk. Sometimes we may seem on edge, but please don’t take it personally — we could be in pain or very fatigued that day.
“On a daily basis you probably see people at the store, at work or in the neighborhood who have MS and have no idea. So I not only share my story for awareness, but to encourage you not to be so quick to judge people — there may be a reason you just don’t know about or can’t see.”
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society-Wisconsin Chapter reports more than 11,000 people in the state have been diagnosed with MS, which tends to strike people between the ages of 20 and 50.
MS is unpredictable, the cause and cure both unknown.
“Any time we can raise awareness when it comes to health issues, as a community, we want to heighten that,” Tierney said, noting that citizens are asked to wear orange on March 10 as a symbol of MS awareness.
“Hopefully more and more folks become aware and we can at some point in our lifetime find a cure for some of these things,” he said.
“I didn’t know what was in store for my future when I was diagnosed with MS,” Fehd said, “but I plan on enjoying and living each day the best that I can and encourage you to as well. You don’t know what tomorrow will bring.”