A 21st Century Journalism Project

Generosity and Perseverance Saves

In People on May 1, 2012 at 1:22 pm

By: HANNAH SPEAR

Bob George was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at age 50 after a traumatic car accident in 2006. George never expected to walk again.

MS Logo

“For the longest time I felt like a dented can, and I didn’t want to tell anyone I had MS. It was like I did something wrong,” George explained. “People treat you differently, its unfortunate but they do and because of that, I spent four years keeping my MS a secret, not telling a soul.”

MS is a chronic, often debilitating disease that attacks the central nervous system. George’s MS progressed to the point that his doctors strongly recommended he applied for disability.

“When it finally got to the point where my doctor started to tell me that I needed to go on disability, I couldn’t keep it a secret anymore. The melodramatic ‘how are you doing’ calls started to roll in, and they drove me crazy,” George explained. “All I could think was, I’m doing great and I think everyone else’s lives are kindof boring. I get to go an adventure everyday. Every time I get out of my car I think to myself, can ya make it? And I just have to say yes Bob, you’re making it, no excuses.”

George was forced to leave his job as a sales manager in 2008 after 31 years of dedicated work. It was devastating.

As George moved through the process of being put on disability, he was thrilled to hear his application was accepted the first time, but shocked when the medical representative informed him that his Medicare would not start for another two years.

“I couldn’t help but yell ‘Excuse me?! You’re putting me on disability and telling me I can’t work, but you’re saying I don’t get any Medicare for two years? You realize I have MS. I need insurance!’,” Bob recounted. His concerns were dismissed.

The system requires George to receive disability benefits for two years before being eligible to enroll and receive any Medicare benefits.

As George embarked on his two-year sentence without insurance, he found himself struggling at even the smallest health woe.

“I found myself at the free clinic in Meadville, with an ingrown toe nail of all things. They were amazing, they hooked me up with some podiatrist in Meadville and it was done free of charge,” George recounted. “All I could think was wow, thank god for generosity.”

Shortly after George was accepted onto disability, his symptoms worsened. His right leg mobility decreased significantly, to the point where his foot was almost completely immobile and needed to be dragged along with him.

“My neurologist in Erie said I needed an MRI, it would be the only real way know what’s going on,” George said. “But, I couldn’t do that, I had no insurance. No way I could pay out of pocket for a test like that. I had to limp away that day.”

George’s search for a solution began that day.

“Every time a situation comes up I think to myself, there’s a way. There’s a way I can do this. My perseverance wont let me stop,” George said. “But this time I saw my symptoms getting so bad that I was really concerned with what was going to happen to me.”

Days later, George reconnected with an old college buddy who works as an emergency room doctor in West Virginia. For nearly three months they stayed in constant phone contact discussing his condition.

“God works in strange and wonderful ways. I never dreamed of him doing this but he said to me one day, ‘Bob, I know you cant afford to get the MRI done, but can you afford to two tanks of gas to come west Virginia? If you can get to West Virginia we will get you your MRI and it wont cost you a dime’,” George recounted.

The next week George drove to West Virginia and had the MRI done free of charge. By the end of the procedure, the radiologist and George had struck up enough conversation to consider each other friends. The radiologist told him about a clinic in Florida that was performing a new procedure and was having great success with patients living with MS. He urged George to investigate.

CCSVI & MS

The procedure treats CCSVI (Chronic Cerebrospinal Venous Insufficiency), which is caused by obstructed blood flow in the veins that drain the central nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord and more. Many believe that CCSVI plays a large role in MS because the oxygenated blood is not going where its supposed to, causing muscles to atrophy. The procedure consists of small balloons inserted into the insular jugular vein to increase the diameter of the vein, and intrinsically increase blood flow.

“After a brief investigation, I came to the conclusion that this was just another doctor making some big bucks off an experimental procedure, and I wasn’t going to do that. So I backed away from it,” George said. “But for the next two months CCSVI popped up in my life in places where I never even expected it. I couldn’t ignore it any longer, and after researching more I found an article that when I read it the ‘a-ha’ light went off and I thought to myself, this could really work.”

The only roadblock in George’s way was the $7,500 price tag.

“Coming up with that kind of money without insurance is daunting. Then I had to buy plane tickets, find a place to stay, the list of costs seemed endless,” George said. “I didn’t know how I was going to make this happen, but I was determined, nothing could get in my way.”

The day before George left, he went back to West Virginia for his last follow up MRI before the procedure. Before his appointment was over, his doctor reached into his desk, pulled out two stacks of 100-dollar bills and placed them on the table in front of George. It was $2,000 toward his procedure.

“The money started coming in like I couldn’t believe,” George explained. “A friend of my put together a web site to for me that I could send to all my friends and family and before I knew it, I had all of the money that I needed. Everything was covered, all I needed to do was go.”

George went to go to Florida the next week, he had his procedure and within two days he started to see improvement. As George and his wife walked through the airport to head back to Pittsburgh, his wife exclaimed, “Bob, do you know what you’re doing?! You’re walking heel to toe with your right foot!”

George had not walked heel to toe with his right foot for nearly a year.

Bob George at one of his weekly workouts (photo credit: Meadville Tribune)

“Parts of my body that hadn’t worked in years started working again,” George described. “I am even working out twice week. I’m not stopping. I’m not shutting down.” George has seen such immense success that he is now working part time again in his effort to maintain his ‘never give up’ mantra.

“I am working for the Keystone Blind Association and these people are so amazing and it’s the most satisfying and rewarding job I have ever done. Even though they all know I have MS and I am limping my way thorough, we get it done,” George said. “It is just how you look at what you do and what you have. Those people inspire me every day, those people are what make me want to get up in the morning and get there so I can be there for people, like people have there for me.”

The generosity and helping hands George has received along the way has kept him afloat. Now, the determination and perseverance to continue to better himself and give back to others, keeps George thriving.

“The more that I continue to do, the more I will be able to continue to do.” George said.

The past few years and George’s journey with MS have been an uphill battle most of the way. For George, not having insurance was a scary thing, but he credits his attitude, approach toward life and the generosity of others, for the strides he has made and continues to make today.

“People don’t understand sometimes, we have so much inspiration inside of us. We just need to harness it.”

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