When her MS forced Abby West, of Salt Lake City, to leave a job she loved, as activities director in a skilled nursing facility, she “cried for seven years,” she says. “My memories of giving service and love to people in the nursing facility are the most glorious of my life. I loved that and miss it so much.”
Her MS did have one impressive benefit: It inspired her son Timothy to become a neurologist and MS specialist. “On a not-so-remarkable day early in my teenage years, my mother told me she had MS. I had no idea what that was, or what it meant. I only knew she seemed very upset,” Dr. West remembers. Seeking to learn more about her illness, Dr. West took a year off from medical school to perform clinical research at UC San Francisco. “It was both exhilarating and inspiring to learn about neurology and clinical research, but even more inspiring was to see the level of care provided to patients of the UCSF MS Center,” he says. The experience led him to convince his father to have his mother re-evaluated at UCSF, and Dr. West returned to school to change his specialty from pediatrics to neurology and complete his degree.
The care they need
Dr. West, who just completed a Society-sponsored fellowship at UCSF, is director of the brand-new MS Program at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas. Previously, this city of almost two million had no dedicated MS specialist, forcing people with MS to travel several hours for care. The new clinic will offer patient education, an infusion center, on-site physical and occupational therapists, MRIs, support groups, psychologists, and clinical research and trials. “We are creating a place where patients with MS can get all the care they need in one place,” he says. “I want to build the center I wish my mom had gone to.” He also hopes to connect with Las Vegas’s Latino community, which has a significant presence in the city.
A new way to serve
Four years ago, Abby West’s niece, Karey Spransy, volunteered to be her personal trainer. Karey had ridden in a Bike MS event in Logan, Utah, for several years and “she helped me find a bicycle I could hand-crank,” Abby said. “It was something I didn’t know I could do, something I did on my own, and my tears stopped. I’ve ridden in Bike MS ever since.” Dr. West has also joined Bike MS, and this year is team captain of the team from the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in the Bike MS: Vegas Challenge in November.
The mother of five children and a grandmother of eight, Abby was diagnosed in 1992 after some 15 years of symptoms, starting when she was pregnant with Tim. She is doing quite well these days. However, she said, “I regret not reaching out sooner for resources and help. I was using a walker, but it was too wide to get into the bathroom, and the toilet was too low. I didn’t know there were options for my home. If I had had adaptations early on, I might have been able to preserve function longer.”
“Much of my mother’s path could have been different,” Dr. West agreed. “Multiple sclerosis is a terrible disease, but a knowledgeable, caring and diligent health-care team can make an enormous difference in the life of someone with this illness. I have seen this both as a neurologist and as a son. It is this fact that motivates me each time I see a patient.”