Multiple Sclerosis Centers of Excellence
Rex Stephens: A Veteran's Journey with Multiple Sclerosis
Rex Stevens -- Winston, OR
I joined the military right out of high school and quickly decided that I wanted to make the military a lifelong career. After about 12 years in the military, while on night patrol in the infantry, I noticed that my night vision was getting bad. I went to the doctor to see if he could help, but the doctor couldn’t find anything wrong with me. He said I was just getting older. I walked away from that appointment thinking, I’m only 30 years old, and this doesn’t make sense. Yet, I realized that the infantry average age was 18 years old, dismissed my concerns and accepted the ailments of age.
I continued to have issues, but they were never consistent. Some days my legs would tingle or I’d feel a little dizzy, other days I’d feel fine. It was difficult to get a full understanding of what was going on since I was never in one place long enough. I was soon led down a path of medical procedures which ruled out what I didn’t have, but failed to tell me what I did have. In 1987, a neurologist noticed a pattern in my symptoms and sent me to Seattle, WA for an MRI. The MRI showed that I had MS, something that was never mentioned in any of my previous medical procedures.
After I was diagnosed, it seemed like my problems got worse. I began to blame everything that was going wrong in my body on MS. There were days that I would feel good, but never 100%, never like I used to feel before it all happened. One day I woke up with no feeling in my legs. This strange feeling kept rising inch by inch up my body and as the sensation got closer to my heart, a thought crossed my mind that this might be the end. After being given several medications the condition stabilized. I was placed in a wheelchair to prevent injury to myself and I went back to work in a desk job. In 1989, I was retired from the military.
After retirement, I did a lot of work in physical therapy and was put on interferon treatments. Through everything, I kept pushing myself, reminding myself that I wasn’t going to let this take me over. After 16 months of being in a wheelchair, I was back on my feet.
After being out of the military for about a year, I decided that I wanted to go back to school. I had an associate degree, but I wanted more. I wanted a degree in public policy. A lot of people told me to reconsider, this would be too much for me, and a waste of money, as the program was just too difficult. I talked to my neurologist about what I wanted to do and he told me that if this is what I wanted and I thought I could do it, then I should go for it. Two years later, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Oregon.
I had always been involved in community development and while finishing my degree, I ran for city counselor, which I won. My path quickly led me to being elected mayor of Winston, Oregon, a position which allows me to give back to my community. I’ve been mayor for 8 years now and I couldn’t be happier. I keep very active and I’m always looking to take on more because I know that I can do it. My progression of MS varies, but I always keep in mind that MS will not set the pattern of my life. I have the disease, but the disease does not have me. I’m very proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish and I’m happy with the way my life turned out.
(from spring 2008 newsletter)