Recently I had the privilege to talk to fellow warrior, Kyle Witter about his journey with MS.
Kyle, what type of Multiple Sclerosis do you have?
I have Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis
What is PPMS?
Ten percent of people diagnosed with MS have Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. There are no relapses or remissions and progression is usually constant although there are plauteas or times when things are stable.
What type of work did you do prior to being diagnosed with MS?
I was a Firefighter for eighteen great years with Hamilton Twp, a suburb of Columbus Ohio.
Prior to diagnosis were you worried about your job?
Absolutely! I had the best job in the WORLD and it was potentially coming to an end.
What was your first symptom that led you to see a Neurologist, and how long did you have this symptom before seeing a Doctor?
A year or two prior to being diagnosed I was having difficulty standing and walking. I really didn’t think much of it and thought it was just general “wear and tear” and age related. In October of 2017, we (myself and other firefighters) were doing drills at the station. These drills are pretty physical and for the first time I was unable to complete them due to exhaustion. My brother firefighters had to help me remove my gear and SCBA because I had no more left. Subsequently, my captain noticed it was becoming more and more difficult for me to do my job and relieved me of duty until I found out what was going on. After a few months of testing I was told I had Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis aka PPMS.
What kind of testing?
MRI’S, spinal tap, blood work, etc.
Did you return to work as a firefighter after the diagnosis?
Immediately after my diagnosis my Chief placed me on injury leave. Fortunately I had accumulated enough sick time to be compensated as if I were still working. On the recommendation of my Doctor, my Chief, friends, and family, I filed for disability pension and thankfully it was approved.
I imagine it must have been very difficult having had such a physical and even heroic job that you loved doing to receiving a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis?
Indeed it was. It was heartbreaking emptying out my locker and turning in my uniforms.
I understand you found another job?
Yes, I work for a local hospital driving a Mobile Intensive Care unit. So while I’m not able to do what I used to do, I’m still in the field.
Is this new position fulfilling?
Absolutely! I get to make a difference in every patient and their families life.
Kyle, what would you say is the most challenging part of living with MS?
I would probably say letting go of the “norm” I knew for so long and adjusting to my “new normal”. I’m still learning and adjusting to this new normal every day.
May I ask what your worst MS symptom is?
I would have to say my worst symptom is difficulty walking and balance.
Do you receive treatment for your MS?
Yes. I have an ocrevus infusion every six months. I also take vitamins and supplements.
Do you feel the Ocrevus is working?
It’s doing what it’s supposed to do which is slow progression. It doesn’t help with the symptoms. I do believe in changing your diet and exercise as much as you’re able to.
Lastly, what would you say to a person newly diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis?
Everyone is going to deal with their MS differently. Work hard to find a new normal and embrace it. Set your pride aside and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t be afraid of MS and most of all, don’t let it define you.