Chris Ferbrache was doing what he loved to do - driving an ambulance for Sierra Ambulance Service - but things changed when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2001, two years after he noticed he had double vision out of his right eye. Soon it was fatigue, unlike he had ever experienced, that became his major symptom.
“Since having double vision and being constantly fatigued was not suitable for driving an ambulance, I went back to school full time to find a career I could do if my health decreased ... a career that would allow me to work in a wheelchair,” Ferbrache said.
“People with fatigue caused by MS are not fatigued because they are not well rested, they are fatigued because their body’s nerves are not working properly,” he continued. “Adding large quantities of caffeine helps bring those affected by MS up to a more ‘normal’ level of energy.”
Ferbrache noted that everyone’s prognosis with MS is different because everyone has different variations of the disease.
“Since I was diagnosed I have tried many medications and natural alternatives to address fatigue,” Ferbrache said. “While there is no perfect treatment because everyone has different variations of the disease, people have to find what works best for them. I take supplements such as Omega-3 and other natural herbs that help protect my brain from the affects of demyelination MS causes.”
Demyelination is damage to the protective covering (myelin sheath) that surrounds nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. When the myelin sheath is damaged, nerve impulses slow or even stop, causing neurological problems.
The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease.
With time and medication Ferbrache’s double vision cleared up and he was able to return to work at Sierra Ambulance. He is now the company’s operations manager, a position he has held for 10 years, while continuing to study business administration.
“Years later I am blessed that I’m not in a wheelchair, but others are not as fortunate,” Ferbrache said.
New support group
MS symptoms are variable and unpredictable. No two people have exactly the same symptoms, and each person’s symptoms can change or fluctuate over time. One person might experience only one or two of the possible symptoms while another person experiences many more.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, MS is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. The cause of MS is still unknown.
Symptoms include blurred vision, fatigue, difficulties walking, numbness or tingling, emotional changes, depression, sexual problems and dizziness and vertigo.
Over the last 15 years new medications have been introduced to treat symptoms and the disease, but no medicine has been produced that actually cures the disease.
Ferbrache, 41, said along the way he found more people like himself that had similar problems and stories of how they deal with the symptoms of MS.
“Recently the wife of a good friend was diagnosed and it occurred to me that a group of people with MS, to share what treatments have been successful for them and providing support for others with MS, could be very beneficial,” Ferbrache said. “That is why I decided to organize the Multiple Sclerosis Alliance of Madera County.”
Ferbrache said the short-term goal of the alliance is getting people with MS together to share their stories and what works for them to benefit others with the ailment.
“The long-term goal is to form a 501 c(3) nonprofit organization and continue improving the lives of those impacted by Multiple Sclerosis,” Ferbrache said.
Ferbrache believes the absence of a cure for Multiple Sclerosis doesn’t mean nothing can be done to help improve the lives of those affected by it today.
“I am looking forward to meeting those in the community who have been affected with MS and hopeful the Multiple Sclerosis Alliance of Madera County can benefit each and every one,” Ferbrache said.
First meeting May 25
The first meeting of the Multiple Sclerosis Alliance of Madera County will be held at 6 p.m. on May 25, at the Sierra Ambulance classroom off Highway 41 in Oakhurst, at 40755 Winding Way.
The group will continue to meet on the fourth Thursday of each month.
“Anyone suffering from Multiple Sclerosis is urged to attend,” Ferbrache said. “We will be offering support, assistance and active discussion.”