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Debbie Petrina


Photo of Debbie Petrina

Debbie Petrina

When Debbie Petrina was diagnosed with MS in 1984, after experiencing puzzling symptoms for four years, “it was the dinosaur era. There was nothing out there: no MRIs, no Internet, a scarcity of books and brochures,” she recalls. “The opposite is true today, which leads to confusion — where do you start? Who do you listen to? I sometimes think we went from nothing to too much.”

So she wrote her own book, Managing MS: Straight Talk from a Thirty-One-Year Survivor. “I wanted my book to be practical, without jargon,” she notes. “And I want to help others as much as I can. Knowledge and support are powerful, and the more you have, the less fear you have.”

Lending a hand comes naturally to Debbie — she was even voted “most helpful” in 7th grade. Volunteering was initially her lifeline to surviving MS. “I went on disability but felt like I had to pay it back,” she says. “With MS being so unpredictable, I never knew when I would have a good or bad day. Volunteering was the perfect solution — I could be as busy as I wanted or call it off at the last minute.”

The Society was a natural place for her. “With my background in financial and strategic planning, I knew how to research, facilitate, put things together. We had a great group. We had a blast!” Over the past three decades, Debbie has spoken to thousands of people affected by MS.

Originally from Pittsburgh, Debbie has lived near Phoenix for the past 11 years. The heat bothers her, she admits, but Pittsburgh’s “humidity plus heat made my difficulties much greater.” In Arizona, she has a built-in pool and lots of places to escape to cool down. Her house is on one level, in a very accessible neighborhood. “And my husband, Dennis, is handy,” she says, so her home is filled with ramps and other conveniences.

“It’s very difficult in the beginning as you’re learning what MS is all about,” Debbie reflects. “But I don’t panic anymore when something goes wrong. I’ve learned to handle uncertainty. I don't fear MS anymore.”

To learn more about Debbie and her book, Managing MS: Straight Talk from a Thirty-One-Year Survivor, visit


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