Veterans Health Administration
Veteran with MS Vows to “Never Quit!”
Kevin, his wife Brie, daughter Eleanor and Monte!
Riding to Raise Money and Awareness
Kevin on his recumbent bike
Right now, Kevin is training for the August 6-7 weekend when he will team up with this year’s 42-person strong Team Amulet to ride 133 miles through Oregon’s Columbia Gorge and Willamette Valley. The annual ride is sponsored in part by the National MS Society.
They aim to raise $50,000 and increase awareness for everyone fighting MS.
As Kevin adds, “When the ride comes, we celebrate with other teams and our supporters. We talk about all of our efforts to get closer to the hour when no one will have to hear the words, ‘You have MS.’”
Follow Kevin’s progress on this year’s BikeMS event at www.brieandkevin.com/bikeMS
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“Never stop…never quit!”
This is Kevin Byrne’s personal mantra.
“I always want to do it all, but some years, my body just will not let me.”
Kevin Byrne, a Veteran army helicopter pilot, has multiple sclerosis, a complex disease that affects the central nervous system.
There are over 28,000 Veterans with Multiple Sclerosis receiving care annually in VA.
Kevin reflects that, “I was overseas with the Army Cavalry when I was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999. Although my Army career ended in a flash, my physical recovery has taken much longer.
“I have been able to fight back, though. Through the amazing medical treatment that I receive from my doctors at the VA Hospital, my health is ‘stable.’ Through the constant love and guidance from my friends and family, I have been able to maintain my daily life.”
As a West Point graduate, Kevin entered military service strong minded and physically fit with the dream that anything was possible. He served as a captain in Army aviation, flying helicopters. His life changed in 1999 when he started experiencing vision problems and numbness in his arms.
Kevin says, “I like to think of myself as a strong person. I’m the one who stands straight when dealing with adversity, there to support the ones who ‘really need the help.’ My MS proves that’s not true. It reminds me how much I lean on others and how much others carry me, support me and give me the strength to keep moving forward.”
Kevin has written emotionally, honestly and, for Veterans and their families dealing with MS, very helpfully. There are 28,000 Veterans with the diagnosis of MS receiving care in the VA system.
Multiple sclerosis is a service-connected disability if diagnosed while in the military, or within seven years after an honorable discharge. And under certain circumstances, many Veterans can qualify after the seven-year window.
Whether service-connected or not, the VA provides care for Vets with MS if they are eligible for VA benefits.
March is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness and Education Month
What causes MS?
The causes of MS are still unknown. What is known is that MS is an autoimmune disease that is affected by a variety of factors like genetics, environment, diet, and vitamin deficiencies which causes the immune system to malfunction. The malfunction can cause damage to the nerve fibers in the central nervous system.
MS is unpredictable
Multiple sclerosis is characterized by relapses (neurologic symptoms which appear rapidly over a few days and then improve to some extent over weeks or months), and remissions (periods of time that are without new symptoms).
The disease is unpredictable and some people experience a variety of symptoms that might worsen over time.
What are the effects of MS?
The effect of the disease damages the insulating material that surrounds the nerve fibers in the central nervous system. This material is called myelin.
The results of this damaging process are similar to what happens to insulation around an electrical wire. When the electrical wire is exposed to the environment (the insulation has worn off), it interrupts the normal flow of electricity and can cause a sporadic connection.
Sometimes it causes an electrical short and no electricity will flow through the wire. Other times, the exposed wire “works” but not correctly.
When there is damage to the nerve fibers of the brain or spinal cord, like in exposed wiring, there can be a sporadic connection causing a variety of symptoms.
Some of the symptoms include extreme physical fatigue, numbness, loss of balance, blurred vision, poor coordination, feelings of muscle weakness and stiffness, changes in thinking, and bowel and bladder problems.
Although currently MS is not curable, several treatments are effective in reducing the frequency of relapses, and reduce the progression of symptoms over time.
The VA Multiple Sclerosis Center of Excellence is dedicated to furthering the understanding of the disease, its impact on Veterans and effective treatments to help manage MS symptoms.
Who gets MS?
MS affects two-to-three times more women than men.
There is a lot of research showing that people who grow up in a colder climate and in northern latitudes are at a somewhat greater risk of developing MS.
Other studies show Caucasians and people from European backgrounds have the highest incidence of MS while people of Japanese decent have the lowest.
Most individuals are diagnosed while in their 20s or 30s, although the age of onset ranges from 15 to 50.
Many Veterans with MS eagerly share their stories on the VA MS website.
These stories are filled with life’s challenges, the value of family and friends, with a little sense of humor thrown in, and lots of hopefulness. We hope you will enjoy reading these stories and in a small way feel connected to Veterans living with this disease.