Owen Mercer shares his MS journey; offers advice for others with the disease.
15“It was like I had the breath knocked out of me.”
Owen Mercer is a talker. But one January day in 2012, he sat there silent. Doctors confirmed a diagnosis. Owen had multiple sclerosis (MS).
“I thought of pretty much every scenario as to what I had, including a brain tumor,” Owen said. “But MS never crossed my mind. I had no clue what to do.”
Several months earlier, Owen, then 35 years old, was living a normal life as a security account manager in Louisville. But one day he started having trouble controlling his hands. He then had trouble walking.
“My balance was off,” he said. “It got to the point that I couldn’t walk up the stairs to my office.”
As MS symptoms get worse, Owen takes action
Then, on Christmas Eve 2011, Owen fell and couldn’t get back up on his own. He knew he needed to see a doctor. After consulting his primary care physician, Owen was referred to Roy J. Meckler, M.D., neurologist with Norton Neuroscience Institute. An MRI showed Owen had MS.
The cause of MS is unknown. It is a chronic, often debilitating disease that attacks the central nervous system consisting of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. While some people experience fatigue and numbness, severe cases can cause paralysis, vision loss and diminished brain function.
“I was in shock,” Owen said. “I knew nothing of MS and thought, ‘What do I do now?’”
After his diagnosis, the symptoms kept getting worse. He had to rely on a cane, then a walker, then a wheelchair. Owen started to lose mobility on his left side, proving especially difficult because he is left-handed. He also felt sharp muscle spasms around his midsection (a symptom known as the “MS hug”).
Owen started taking action. He was put on a disease-modifying therapy consisting of infusions that slowed the symptoms and helped stabilize his balance.
Resource center offers help and hope
Owen also sought out support from the Norton Neuroscience Institute Resource Center. The center offers individuals with neurological conditions access to educational, therapeutic, counseling and exercise programs.
“The resource center has been amazing since day one,” Owen said. “They helped me find a wheelchair and navigate the Medicare process.”
But what the resource center offered Owen the most was hope.
“When you find out you have a debilitating disease, you find yourself in a very dark place,” he said. “Having a place where others understand MS helps you keep your head above water.”
The past six years have meant lots of changes for Owen, but many for the better. He left his job and enrolled in school. Having once dropped out of college, he earned his associate and bachelor’s degrees. Recently, he made his way across the stage at Eastern Kentucky University to receive his master’s degree in safety, security and emergency management — with a 4.0 GPA.
“I can’t describe the feeling of being on that stage,” Owen said. “My father, who died of lung cancer in 2012, was so big on education. I looked up in the sky and said to him, ‘We did it.’”
‘You can overcome it and live a great life’
Owen continues to use his wheelchair but also can walk with a cane. He’s looking to get back into the workforce by becoming a consultant to help companies comply with security, fire and other safety standards required by law.
“Owen has been an inspiration for all,” Dr. Meckler said. “He is a perfect model for the necessity of compliance and willing himself for wellness. Despite a grim initial outlook, there is always something to be done and in which to believe.”
Owen is looking forward to the future. He offered this advice to anyone with the disease:
“You’re not alone and accept help,” he said. “MS is a life-changing event that turns your world upside down. But you can overcome it and live a great life.”
Neurosciences patient resources
Norton Neuroscience Institute Resource Center is available to bridge the gap between managing a neurological condition and improving quality of life.
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