“You can call me a fool, but I’m going to keep on believing and keep on working hard,” says 57-year-old David Horan, faced with the daunting challenge of primary progressive multiple sclerosis, a debilitating form of MS that strikes adults and for which there is no cure.
A Fighting Spirit
An avid runner who played golf, basketball and baseball, Horan noticed that he was experiencing problems 10 years ago, when he was 47, and he was stunned to learn the diagnosis.
“It’s usually a long, slow slide into disability, but I’ve fought it every step of the way, and I continue to fight it,” says Horan.
Early signals were the overall slowdown of his body, with limbs and extremities stiffening up and becoming less responsive, a condition called spasticity.
“When I first looked into it, I was more sluggish, I couldn’t run quite as far, I couldn’t play golf quite as well. It became harder to walk and do normal things; you feel needles in your hands and your feet—there are all sorts of things that go along with it.”
The worst shock, however, was learning that there was no cure.
Horan is a realist and accepts what science holds to be true. “But also,” he adds, “I’m a man of faith, and I believe that God is leading me. I believe the old saying that says, ‘Pray to God for help, but work as hard as you can on your own.’ So I pray as if everything depends on God, and I work as if everything depends on me.”
In the Summer of 2009, David Received a Little Help
The disease was progressing, but he was still functioning and performing supervised exercise regimens daily when Horan learned about The WalkAide® System, a myo-orthotic system that sends electric signals to alert the muscles in his left foot to lift the toes at precisely the right moment to prevent his stumbling—a problem that had been gradually worsening.
Not everyone is a candidate for the WalkAide, Horan learned, “But it worked perfectly for me!”
Wearing the WalkAide has enabled him to continue doing those things he was struggling to do before: “When I walk outside, I don’t walk far, but when I go to the hospital every morning to do special exercises, I’m able to walk probably about 100 yards with my cane and the WalkAide giving me that dorsiflexion in my foot. Without the WalkAide, I’d have drop foot and I would trip. It has enabled me to continue to function.
“It’s still a struggle. When you have MS, it’s a constant struggle; but I’m able to keep going. It’s a small victory for me—and that’s something that people with MS don’t get a lot of.”
Horan celebrated that victory by walking this year—for the first time—in the MS Society’s annual walk held in his hometown of Bristol, Connecticut, every spring.
“I participate every year with my wife, friends and neighbors, who help to raise money for MS research. I’ve always wanted to walk in it, but I’ve never been able to because my MS keeps getting worse. The WalkAide helped me so at least I could walk a little bit—only about 20 feet, but I actually walked!”
Today, he is able to walk along with his wife on little shopping trips, and he travels and still walks into the hospital daily for special care and exercise.
With one daughter in college and another still in high school, and Horan’s father, who is blind, also sharing their home, Horan has plenty of motivation to remain active. “There’s plenty to take care of—we’ve got a full house!”
Horan concentrates on keeping himself in the best shape possible to continue battling the progress of the disease. He gets weekly massages to help with the spasticity in his lower legs, relaxing the tightness so they function more freely. He watches his diet closely, banning alcohol, caffeine, dairy products, and avoiding sugar as much as possible.
“I’m trying to make my body the best it can be with this bad situation.”
The WalkAide continues to provide vital help, both physiological and psychological: Horan has detected a slight improvement in his ability to consciously dorsiflex his left foot, a residual effect of the WalkAide that some wearers experience even after removing the device.
He is hoping that maybe there will be more.
In 2010, Horan volunteered to take on another chore—writing a book about his experience in dealing with MS.
“I started to write it three years ago, and I initially wanted to stress the importance of inspiration and prayer and positive thinking, but a successful local author spent time with me this summer and helped by encouraging me to write the story more about my life and experience. I was initially reluctant to do that—I wanted to encourage people to keep on going in their own lives. But this book is really a capsule of my life and how I did this. Hopefully people will read it and learn from it and be inspired by it. I think people will see what I’ve done with this disease and my determination to live with it and improve myself physically to do more. Ultimately, what everybody with an MS-related walking disability wants to do is to walk better again.”