The Jewish library: ‘In This Together’

In This Together by Ann Romney, Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press, 2015

By Sheila Orysiek

Sheila Orysiek

Sheila Orysiek

SAN DIEGO — When she was 47 years old and in the midst of a very busy life, Ann Romney noticed a numb spot on her leg as well as problems with her balance and increasing fatigue.  At first she ascribed this general tiredness to raising a family of five active boys.

But, the symptoms persisted and she consulted a neurologist who informed her she had MS – multiple sclerosis.  He gave her very little information except that treatment with steroids could begin when the symptoms worsened.  This was, of course, a very heavy emotional blow and her future looked dim indeed.  At the time, Ann and Mitt Romney lived in Boston and a friend suggested that Ann make an appointment with Dr. Howard Weiner, who is one of the leaders in research and treatment of the disease at the MS Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Dr. Weiner’s parents had fled from Vienna in 1939 to escape from the Nazi threat and settled in Denver, Colorado.  His maternal grandfather, Samuel Wasserstrum, procured a visa to leave Austria and come to the United States and was already on board a ship about to leave a German port, when he was pulled off and sent to Auschwitz where he died.  However, he had written a letter to his daughter in Denver and asked her to promise that if she had a son, that son would become a doctor.  The grandfather was himself a furrier. Thus from his earliest days, Dr. Weiner felt it his destiny to be a doctor and never considered becoming anything else.  He took on neurology as his specialty and quickly became involved in the study and treatment of MS.

Rather than send Ann home with only a confirmed diagnosis as the previous neurologist had done, Dr. Weiner suggested that treatment begin at once with the hope of arresting – or at least slowing down further progression of the disease.  This gave Ann new hope and a goal.  She was determined to recapture as much of her life as she could.

At first, just walking a few steps was exhausting but each day she added another step or two.  Eventually, she added other activities such as a life long love of horses and riding – especially dressage.  She used this as part of her therapy.  As much as possible she helped in her husband’s successful campaign for governor of Massachusetts and was even able to run a short lap and carry the torch to light the Olympic fire in the games which were held in Salt Lake City – the event having been saved from administrative failure and corruption by Mitt Romney.

Subsequently, she also worked in Romney’s two presidential campaigns.  However, she had to be careful with her energy and at times needed to return home to complete rest.

No matter where she was living, Ann remained Dr. Weiner’s patient.  She learned that MS as well as other neurologic diseases manifests itself differently in each patient.  What might trigger a remission or a relapse is not well understood.  The patient may look well to others – but in fact is not.  She mentions how this is not understood by other people – and thus opens the patient to criticism such as using a disabled placard when not seeming to be ill.

Ann is adamant about how her Mormon faith and being surrounded by a large close family and friends has aided her.  She has also contributed time, funds and other resources to research of MS and other neurologic diseases such as ALS, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.  Dr. Weiner, his colleague Dr. Dennis Selkoe, Ann Romney and others have funded the “Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital” in Boston, Massachusetts.  At first Ann did not want her name heading the Center’s title – but eventually she was convinced by others  that use of her name might further the effort to garner the necessary attention and funds for research.

It is estimated that worldwide over fifty million people suffer from some neurologic disease.  A website has been set up by the Ann Romney Center at: https://www.50millionfaces.org

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Orysiek is a freelance writer who specializes in the arts and literature.  She may be contacted via [email protected]. Comments intended for publication in the space below must be accompanied by the letter writer’s first and last name and by his/ her city and state of residence (city and country for those outside the U.S.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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