Multiple Sclerosis Resources for Louisiana

Fatigue. Heat sensitivity. Confusion. Loss of coordination. Blurred vision. Pain and cramping.

The early symptoms of multiple sclerosis differ from person to person and can often be mistaken for other problems. We know the disease targets the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system), but how does it happen?

The frustrating answer is: We don’t know. Making a diagnosis even harder is the fact that we still don’t know what causes multiple sclerosis, or MS. Research has come a long way in explaining the disease and in equipping us with ways to manage it, but there are still many questions to be answered.

What DO we know? Scientists believe there could be a genetic predisposition. We also know that women seem to be affected at a rate at least twice that of men. MS changed the lives of celebrities such as TV newsman Neil Cavuto and actress Teri Garr and claimed the life of comedian Richard Pryor.

MS begins when the immune system attacks the protective myelin sheath around nerve fibers and short-circuits communication between your brain and the rest of your body. The progress, severity and specific symptoms seem to vary by individual. These "unknowns” make MS a particularly frightening diagnosis.

The Importance of Support

Although we don’t yet have a cure for multiple sclerosis, we do have treatments to mitigate attacks and manage symptoms.

Over 20 years ago, country music singer Clay Walker was playing basketball with friends when he noticed he couldn’t keep his balance and had numbness in his extremities.

He soon found out he was suffering from early symptoms of the disease. He would soon learn the importance of managing his daily routines and minimizing the risk of relapse by having an attack plan tailored to fit his (and his family’s) lifestyle.

"When I was first diagnosed, I was told I’d be in a wheelchair in four years and dead within eight,” Walker said in interviews.

He worked with his Houston doctor and his wife and caregiver, Jessica, to come up with a plan to manage the disease. Their aggressive plan of attack has helped. As of 2017, Walker has been relapse free for 19 years.

Jessica’s first piece of advice to those with a new MS diagnosis is to stay off Google. There’s a flood of scary information (and misinformation) on the Internet that isn’t going to help you all that much.

The next step? Jessica advises coming up with a routine and sticking to it. For her family, that means an organic diet, exercise and taking the prescribed meds without skipping — ever. Doing these things daily is the important part; consistency has given the Walker family results for the long-term, as well hope for the future.

Clay Walker in 2008.

"Chronic illness can rob you of your life,” Clay Walker says. The disease can become the central point of your life. He says his family support group and a network of friends has made all the difference — as has his faith in God.

"As caregivers, although there are over 90 million of us nationwide, it can be a lonely position sometime,” Jessica Walker said. "So knowing you can reach out to your support group makes it better.”

Resources in Louisiana

Besides having a support network of friends and family, it’s important to stay active. There are quite a few opportunities to get involved, even if MS has robbed you of some of your physical functions.

  • In October, Bike MS: Dat's How We Roll is a two-day cycling event to help create a world free of multiple sclerosis. It covers 150 miles through the beautiful countryside of Louisiana and Mississippi (starting at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond). Last year’s ride raised $698,098 to help fund MS research and critical programs. Whether you ride or fund-raise, your help is needed.
  • You don’t have to start out with a bike ride. Get your toes wet with some simple life advice and read these Ochsner Health System Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Life Hacks.
  • Although it’s active all over the state, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Louisiana Chapter is headquartered in Metairie. Click here to contact them via phone or email and find out what activities they have planned.
  • The 31st Annual Meeting of the Consortium of MS Centers (CMSC) was New Orleans earlier this year. Its purpose was to share findings and learn the latest about diagnosis and treatment of MS and to hear MS research updates. (Many presentations from the meeting are posted here.)
  • Have you or a loved one been diagnosed with MS? If so, you’re at the beginning of a long journey, but you don’t have to make it alone. Slidell Memorial Hospital works with Ochsner Health System to bring high-quality care, cost savings and increased local access to care for the residents of the Slidell community, including those impacted by MS.
  • Slidell Memorial Hospital also hosts MS-related events and support groups from time to time. Check out our calendar page regularly.

SMH is a full-service 229-bed acute care community hospital in the heart of Slidell. Our mission is to improve the quality of life in St. Tammany Parish and Pearl River County, Miss.

The Slidell Memorial Hospital Regional Cancer Center also provides comprehensive care to patients across the Gulf Coast. Other SMH facilities include the SMH Imaging Center, SMH Heart Center and the SMH Sleep Center.