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Health & Balance

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Meredith Vieira juggles two popular television shows, kids, contractors -- and a husband who has MS.
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Living with MS

MS affects between 250,000 and 350,000 Americans, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorder and Stroke. Researchers believe it may be a progressive disease that happens when the body's immune system attacks nerves in the brain and the spinal cord.

While the cause is unknown, the most common symptoms are tingling, numbness, loss of balance, weakness in one or both arms or legs, and blurred or double vision.

Symptoms are unpredictable and tend to vary from person to person. While one individual may be extremely tired, another may have severe vision problems, yet another may have trouble with balance and muscle coordination, or slurred speech, tremors, stiffness, and bladder problems.

Cohen's case was not advanced when he and Vieira met, but in recent years he has lost his eyesight and must now use a cane to walk. "Richard's condition is worsening," she says softly. "It's subtle, and I don't often see it, just like I don't see my kids growing, and then I am like, 'How did you get so tall?'"

Plus, she says, "he has the double whammy because of the two bouts of colon cancer [in the late 1990s and early 2000], and his quality of life has diminished from that.

But don't feel sorry for Vieira. "The totality of my life is great," she says. "MS has been good to us. We have met incredible people, and our children are far more empathetic than they would have been otherwise. They are very empathetic because they have seen their dad struggle, fall, and hold a newspaper within an inch of his face to read it."

She recalls a recent incident. "[A few blocks] from home, Richard realized that he couldn't make it. He leaned into a wall, then [phoned] to say, 'Come and get me.'" Vieira and Ben met him right away. "I can't tell you how impressed I was with how Ben handled his dad," she says. "He knew exactly how to support his father physically and not to draw attention to it. It was quite a thing to see."

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