Dr. Victor M. Rivera’s experience with MS goes back more than 40 years, to a time when the disease wasn’t so recognized. In 1969, as the first neurology chief resident at the then-new Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, he’d planned to specialize in stroke, but “I looked at MS and I got fascinated,” he recalls. In those days before MRIs and other diagnostic tools, “it was very challenging to make clinical assessments and measure results.” Dr. Rivera is now professor emeritus at Baylor and an adjunct professor at University of Houston. He founded and directed the Maxine Mesinger MS Comprehensive Care Center in Houston, which was instrumental in developing medication protocols at a time when few were available.
“Then something beautiful happened,” he said. “I met Sylvia Lawry, founder of the National MS Society. She was a dynamo and she gave me a directive that I have continued to follow: Education, awareness, support groups in Latin America. She was so passionate about this, and even lived in Mexico City where she made contacts with politicians and business people. Mrs. Lawry is one of the most significant reasons I’m involved in improving MS care in Latin America.”
Dr. Rivera, who is originally from Mexico, helped create and is the current chair of the Society’s Hispanic/Latino Advisory Council to support the Society on the best ways to reach and engage the Hispanic/Latino community in the U.S. Council members include social workers, nurses, neurologists and others with a variety of MS experience, expertise and perspectives. The Council has produced a number of DVDs and maintains a Spanish-language section on the Society website.
“One of my great satisfactions is the founding of LACTRIMS in 1999,” Dr Rivera said, referring to the Latin American Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis. “Years back MS was studied in very few medical schools in Latin America. Now there’s big interest all over the hemisphere, and the number of papers and studies has greatly increased.”
Until his recent retirement from Baylor, he invited four to five observers a year from Latin America and continues to travel there frequently. He also continues to be involved in education and research. “The Mesinger Center has contributed to practically every medication available for MS as part of multicenter trials,” many involving Hispanics, he pointed out.
“MS is my mission and my passion in life,” he says, “second only to my wife.”