When guitar picker Clay Walker lost coordination in his right hand while
playing basketball with friends in 1996, the Texan was justifiably nervous. "At
first I was kind of laughing about it," he recalls. "But then I started having
double vision and
dizziness, and I couldn't stand up. And I realized, whoa, this is pretty
serious." Walker went straight to a doctor, who diagnosed the chart-topping
country singer with relapsing-remitting
multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic neurological disorder that attacks the
brain and spinal cord, affecting 400,000 Americans.
Walker was befuddled by the diagnosis. "There was so little
that had been publicized about MS at the time that I didn't know what it was,"
he says. Forget playing the guitar. According to the doctor who diagnosed him,
the prognosis was grim. "He said that I would be in a wheelchair in four years
and dead in eight."
In some ways, each person with multiple sclerosis lives with a different illness. Although nerve damage is always involved, the pattern is unique for each individual with MS.
Specific experiences with MS may vary widely, but doctors and researchers have identified several major types of MS. The categories are important because they help predict disease severity and response to treatment.
Luckily, that doctor was woefully misinformed. Symptoms of MS
and their progression vary from person to person. They can be mild, such as
numbness in the arms and legs, or severe, with paralysis or loss of vision.
After Walker suffered two more attacks that year, his neurologist put him on a
drug that halted the progression of the disease, and he's been in remission
Walker was appalled at how in-the-dark his first doctor was, so
he decided to do something about it. "I figured with whatever celebrity I do
have, I was going to get information out there for the people who don't know,"
he says. He didn't give up playing music, and in 2003 he created Band Against
MS (www.bandagainstms.org), a nonprofit charity committed to providing
educational information and assistance for those living with MS and funding
programs to find a cure. Last month, Band Against MS produced a benefit concert
in Nashville to raise money for MS research. And for MS Awareness Week, March
8-14, he'll be doing 30-second radio PSAs to support Band Against MS.
Walker's come a long way from that first doctor's visit. He and
his wife now have a
toddler and a brand-new
baby at home. Quite a change from thinking he wouldn't walk his
then-6-month-old daughter down the aisle. And his guitar picking is doing just
fine as well. His new single, "She Won't Be Lonely Long," is rocking up the