Nebraska gym offers a step forward for MS patients
December 14th, 2011
Lincoln, NE – According to the National MS Society, approximately 400,000 Americans have multiple sclerosis, including more than 27,000 Nebraskans. Everyone affected by this neurological disease has his or her own tale; for one Nebraska man, the first step to his own recovery came with helping others manage theirs.
Daryl Kucera might have been the first tell you: things don’t always go as expected in life.
“We opened in August of 2001, and the goal was to do athletic conditioning for young athletes,” Kucera said. “Then, one month to-the-date after I opened Fast Forward is when I had my first symptom of M.S., which was I lost my sight.”
M.S., or multiple sclerosis, is an autoimmune disease that targets the central nervous system, ultimately affecting the brain and spinal cord. For Kucera, the news came as a shock.
“That was a first,” he said. “I had never even heard of multiple sclerosis at that point.
“So we closed the gym down, my sight came back, we opened it up and then had another hit,” he continued. “That (attack) just took out my right side for a good six weeks.”
Kucera soon realized that his original plans for a youth training center would have to be altered. It wasn’t long, however, before he found the solution in his own battle with the disease.
“I went through physical therapy,” and then his insurance agency informed him they would only cover so many sessions per year. “So what do people do after that? There’s really not much they could do. So, we had the gym. We worked with the National M.S. Society, worked with my neurologist, worked with some physical therapy organizations and said, ‘What if we would start something … a program that compliments physical therapy?'”
And that’s exactly what Kucera did.
Fast forward, if you will, to more than a decade after the gym’s initial opening, and you’ll find a picture far removed from what Kucera originally anticipated. Instead of teens training for youth sports, you’ll see not only patients with M.S., but also those with other neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig ‘s disease. The result has been an extension of the original Fast Forward gym: a non-profit training agency called M.S. Forward.
“We started that in 2003, and we’ve had over 300 people now with M.S., Parkinson’s and A.L.S./Lou Gehrig’s disease that come here and work out,” Kucera said. “Once physical therapy’s done, they don’t discontinue what they’re doing. They just come here, and a lot of times we get notes from the physical therapist saying, ‘This is what they’re working on,’ and then they just continue it here. It works out nicely.”
And of the five or six patients present on a Saturday morning, each had an exercise routine tailored to their improvement: whether it was with weights, stair steps, or in Elizabeth Rafell’s case, getting some time in on the treadmill.
Rafell had her first episode of M.S. nearly 15 years ago, but it wasn’t until two years later that she was officially diagnosed with the disease.
“I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been able to maintain most of my activities: I still do my snow-blowing and I teach full-time – first grade – so that keeps me going,” she said with a laugh.
Rafell described how M.S. Forward had helped her maintain a normal life. A lot of it, she said, comes from the support provided by Kucera and other patients at the facility.
“Because people don’t really understand M.S. and they really don’t know (what it’s about),” she said. “They could look at me and I’m active, and I’m busy and I’m doing basic everyday activities that everybody else does. But they don’t see the fatigue, the tiredness. Sometimes there’s a little anxiety. But coming here, you’re with other people who have M.S. and they understand the challenges that you have. They have that understanding. So, it is nice to be with other people who are in the same situation.”
It’s a statement echoed by Kucera himself, who said the program has not only offered the benefit of physical improvement but also mental and emotional support. He said he’s proud of what many of his clients have accomplished both in the past and what they’ve been accomplishing now.
“The biggest thing is to never give up. I think the disease wants you to give up,” Kucera said, reflecting on his experiences. “I think our biggest thing is, even if you have some disability, you can accomplish so much if you set your mind to it. It’s wonderful to see the people that came out here and were really depressed because of the disease and now have gone back to work. Or have been able to do some things, whether it’s even playing with their grandkids, or doing more things with their spouse. You’re given your life back. And that’s a great reward.”
MS Forward has put on annual fundraisers over the past several years to help support membership and operating costs for the facility. The organization has recently been in the early stages of working in conjunction with boutiques throughout Nebraska to create a fashion show – “A Walk to Remember” – to act as next year’s fundraiser.