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Where There's a Will, There's a Way

Edward Robertson -- Clay County, Florida

There is a history of men joining the Navy in my family and following my graduation from high school, I decided that was something I wanted to do as well. I was a Naval aircrewman, with much of my time spent in the back of a P-3 Orion (long-range, anti-submarine warfare patrol aircraft), and I was an instructor for many years. I gladly dedicated almost 22 years of my life to the Navy. When I look back at my years in service, I can see how the Navy gave me an opportunity to pursue my interests as well as develop skills that I continue to use every day.Edward Robertson

My first experience with MS occurred in the fall of 1987. I was stationed in Maine and my Squadron was deploying to Keflavik, Iceland. While in route, both of my legs went numb from the middle of my thighs to my toes. I was examined by a flight surgeon, but he couldn’t find anything wrong with me. He said the numbness was likely a result of my body acclimating to the cold weather. This didn’t make sense to me, but 3 weeks later the numbness went away and life went back to normal.

From about 1990 to 1995, I experienced an MS exacerbation about every 18 months, with each episode lasting a few weeks. The episodes started to feel like normal to me and I chalked it up to the aging process. From 1996 to 1999, I found that my legs were numb and tingling almost every day. I was sent to a neurologist at one point, but she couldn’t find anything wrong with me. Following an incident where I broke my ankle while running and my legs were shaking horribly in front of the flight surgeon examining me, I was sent to a neurologist who did a spinal tap and MRI. The very next day I was told that I had MS.

At the time, I had never heard of MS. I told my family about my diagnosis and my mother told me that my cousin had recently been diagnosed with MS as well. I wanted to learn all I could about the disease so I researched it on my own. I started an MS medication right away and the medication helped control my symptoms. I was devastated by my diagnosis of MS and unsure of my future. I had just been promoted to Senior Chief Petty Officer, transferred to a new Command, and I didn’t want to leave the Navy. While I knew I couldn’t fly anymore, I found there were a lot of other things I could still do in the Navy. I spent another couple of years at the training Command until I retired in 2003.

Following my retirement, I found that I qualified for Vocational Rehabilitation through the VA. I decided to attend college and earn a degree in teaching. I enjoyed being an instructor in the Navy and this seemed like a good second career for me. I earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and I substituted and tutored for a couple of years. Although I enjoyed teaching young children, aviation was a part of me. In 2010, I was hired by an aviation systems engineering company (ASEC) to write curricula for a new Navy aircraft.

I thought my diagnosis of MS would cause me to have to change my whole life, but I’m still able to do most of the things I enjoy. While in the Navy, I was passionate about aviation and teaching. I fulfill that passion every day even though I’m not up in the air. I’m also passionate about staying active and keeping fit. Though I’m no longer able to run long distances, I’ve found ways to keep myself active and fit.

I participated in the National MS Society “Bike MS” for 3 consecutive years. I found riding a bike for exercise was just as enjoyable as running. The VA I receive my MS care from uses telehealth for some of their rehabilitation programs. The idea that I could participate in an exercise program from the comfort of my home was very appealing and I jumped at the opportunity to participate. The first tele-rehabilitation program I participated in required me to remotely sign into a video conferencing system and exercise using resistance bands. There were other Veterans exercising at the same time and we would chat and exercise together, which was enjoyable. After about a year, I was released from the program.

I then participated in the Brooks Adaptive Sports and Recreation Program where I used handcycles for exercise. It was challenging for me to attend the sessions and after a short time, my arm strength weakened, making it difficult to participate. I left the Brooks Program and a few months later, I learned about a new tele-rehabilitation program at my VA. As a participant in the program, an exercise routine was developed for my specific needs. The program is similar to playing a video game, but my body is the game pad. It’s a lot of fun to do and I look forward to exercising. The exercises are helping me increase my strength and I’m hoping I can soon participate again in the Brooks Program.

They say, “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it!” and I’m doing my best to keep myself healthy and active. I have days where I find it difficult to stay active or I can’t seem to find the time to fit everything in. On those days, I remember my motivators and this helps me reach my goals. I’ve been married for 30 years to Barbara, a wonderful woman who provides me with limitless support. I have three amazing sons who continue to bring me a tremendous amount of joy. I’m surrounded by family and friends who care about me. I’ve accomplished so many things in my life and have experienced some great adventures. I’m doing all I can to make sure I’m ready for the next adventure.