Writer Jeff Mezydlo knows about
living with MS as a famiy. His wife, Vicki, was diagnosed just
months after they got engaged 12 years ago. Read about his
Ask Noelle Wojciechowski about her favorite places
in her family's North Side Chicago home, and the 11-year-old might
peer toward the kitchen.
That's where she enjoys baking with her dad, Dave. Word is
their raspberry pies are to die for.
Spending time in the kitchen has become a special, almost
therapeutic, time for the pair.
In 1992, Dave Wojciechowski was diagnosed with multiple
sclerosis, a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the
central nervous system. Fatigue and balance issues at times prevent
him from riding a bike or going for a walk with Noelle. Instead,
baking and swimming have provided important father-daughter bonding
Having a parent with health issues could be overwhelming
for some children, but MS has always been a part of Noelle's family
"I'm lucky to have an inspiration like that," she
Declan Loftus, a 14-year-old in Glen Ellyn, whose mother
Angela has been living with MS since January 2004, feels the same
And even though 6-year-old Andrea and 5-year-old Victoria
Taddei are too young to grasp the nature of the disease their
father, Bert, has been living with since February 2008, they will
soon learn just how much of a support system they are.
Taddei, Loftus and Wojciechowski are just three of about
400,000 Americans and 2.5 million people worldwide living with MS.
They are not allowing this frustrating disease with no cure to
control their lives or their family.
"I'd like to think I lead as normal life as I can," says
the 40-year-old Taddei, a salesman from Northbrook.
Prior to being diagnosed, Angela Loftus and Bert Taddei
knew nothing about MS, which is an autoimmune disease without a
definitive cause, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis
Society. MS results when the immune system attacks the myelin,
protective insulation surrounding nerve fibers of the brain, spinal
cord and optic nerves. Most people diagnosed are between 20 and
"I remember being in denial," says Loftus, 47, who works
as a supply chain manager. "I didn't want to know anything about
it. I had a bit of a Superwoman complex at the time."
While MS is not fatal, those living with it face
limitations. Symptoms can be as mild as numbness in the limbs or as
severe as paralysis or vision loss.
Loftus, Taddei and Wojciechowski may all, at times, need a
cane or wheelchair to get by, but two-thirds of those living with
MS remain able to walk unassisted.
"I go along and try to do the best I can," says
Wojciechowski, 49, a financial systems analyst and former
basketball player at Valparaiso University. "Some days are harder
While that is a challenge, more frustrating is how the
disease progresses, with the severity remaining unpredictable and
varying from person to person.
Wojciechowski, Loftus and Taddei have experienced various
bouts of double vision or optic neuritis, as well as numbness and
They agree that MS also has an uncanny way of zapping a
person's strength to the point that getting out of bed or walking
up a flight of stairs becomes a chore.
Heat is the enemy, and being exposed to too much of it can
knock out a person living with MS faster than a right hook from
Injectable, disease-modifying drugs help slow the
progression of the disease. Steroids and even chemotherapy are used
to treat exacerbations-attacks that last at least 24 hours and are
separate from previous exacerbations by at least 30 days. Some
attacks can linger for several days or months.
Being surrounded by supportive people is a vital component
to living successfully with MS.
Loftus didn't realize how much she would miss Declan when
he attended the MS Youth Camp last summer in Minnesota.
The camp provided a perfect haven for Declan to meet other
kids, like Noelle, who are part of families living with MS, but his
mom felt a void without her little caregiver.
"I didn't realize how much I really rely on him, not just
to do things for me, but just for emotional support," she
Whether it's getting her a glass of water or simply asking
how she is doing, Loftus doesn't have to look far for someone to
lend a hand.
"I have a great group of family and friends who won't let
me wallow," says Loftus, who cherishes time spent helping Declan
with his homework or cheering on the Chicago Blackhawks with him
and her husband, Jim.
Noelle and her mom, Liz, say Wojciechowski has never felt
sorry for himself, even when times are very tough.
"You have this thing and you can't let it take over," says
Wojciechowski, whose mother died of complications from a rare
severe case of MS.
Taddei credits the unconditional support of his wife,
Diana, for helping him enjoy a life that includes playing the
guitar and taking his daughters to the park.
Like many in the same boat, Angela Loftus, Dave
Wojciechowski and Bert Taddei are faced with an uncertain, and
sometimes, frustrating challenge. However, they are tackling MS
"It's certainly something that's not going to stifle our
zest for life," Taddei says.
Jeff Mezydlo lives in Chicago and writes for a sports statistical firm in the northern suburbs. His wife, Vicki, has been living with multiple sclerosis since 1999. They have a 3-year-old son.
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