When Secaucus volunteer firefighter Kevin Kilroy felt numbness in his left arm in 2008, a neurologist sent him for an MRI, which uncovered compressed discs in his neck.
He had surgery and the numbness when away, at least for a while.
But when it returned three months later, doctors new something was really wrong.
That’s when he was finally diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
“Living with MS, every day is different,” he said. “There are some days where I feel fantastic, and there are other days when I have a hard time just doing routine things. The fatigue is the biggest problem. Then there’s the numbness. Sometimes I’ll be walking and then all of a sudden I’ll get numbness and I’ll get weakness on one side [of my body] and it’s difficult just to lift my leg.”
Kilroy wasn’t officially diagnosed with MS until 2008, but he said that, looking back, he had had symptoms of the disease for years. Doctors, he said, came up with other diagnoses to explain his symptoms so the MS went undetected and undiagnosed for a long time.
“People can go undiagnosed for a very long time.” – Kevin Kilroy
In addition, many of the symptoms of the disease aren’t unique to MS and can be caused by other health problems.
Since his diagnosis Kilroy, with the help of his fellow firefighters in the Secaucus Volunteer Fire Department, has actively raised money for MS research and has tried to raise public awareness of the disease.
As a part of this work, he is speaking out about the disease in honor of MS Awareness Week (March 14 through 19) and is putting together a team to walk in the 23rd Annual Walk for MS fundraiser, taking place along the Jersey City waterfront on Sunday, April 10. This is the third year Kilroy’s team, Firefighters4MS, has participated in the walk.
An unpredictable disease
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s New Jersey Metro Chapter, there are more than 13,000 Garden State residents living with MS, and more than 400,000 people living with the disease nationwide. It affects women two to three times more often than men, and most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50.
Two unique aspects of the disease are that it affects each patient differently and symptoms – such as blurred vision, loss of coordination, and memory problems – can go and come at will. Some patients also experience paralysis. The progress, severity, and specific symptoms that will be experienced by any one patient can’t be predicted, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
MS somehow blocks the flow of information between the brain and body, one of the reasons patients have trouble getting their bodies to do functions their brains tell them to do. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the unpredictability of the disease often interrupts the lives of patients and makes it difficult for them to make plans for their daily or long-term lives, something Kilroy has experienced firsthand.
After being an active firefighter who responded to fire emergencies, he had to change his role within the department.
“I can’t take the risk that I’ll be on a fire call and all of a sudden go numb,” he said. “I would be putting other people in jeopardy. So now, if we have a fire and we call in other [fire] departments for mutual aid, I’ll help coordinate our work with those other departments…I do a lot of support work in the department.”
Although MS is considered a manageable disease, like diabetes, there is no cure for it.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society uses both MS Awareness Week and its annual Walk for MS to raise money for research so more can be understood about how the disease affects the body.
Thus far, 20 people have signed up to walk with Kilroy’s Firefighters4MS team.
Last year the team raised $4,900 for MS research.
“I’ve set a goal to raise $10,000 this year. So far this year we’ve raised $2,000,” Kilroy, a member of Washington Hook and Ladder, said. “It may seem like a long shot, considering what we’ve raised in the past. But I’m being very ambitious.”
The 23rd Annual Walk for MS will take place on Jersey City’s waterfront on Sun. April 10 and will kick off at 10 a.m. For more information on Firefighters4MS, email Firefighters4MS@gmail.com. Those who are interested in walking with the team can also visit http://main.nationalmssociety.org/goto/Firefighters4MS or http://main.nationalmssociety.org/goto/K.Kilroy. The Jersey City course is four miles long.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.