The recent death of “America’s girl next door” Annette Funicello both saddened and angered me. As a fan of Annette’s beach blanket movies, saying goodbye to such an iconic piece of Americana and my own childhood was heartbreaking. As a fellow multiple sclerosis patient, I was angered by the misinformation put out by the media regarding the correlation between Funicello’s death and MS.
“Mouseketeer Annette Funicello dies from multiple sclerosis” read the headline of a Catholic.org article.
While Funicello is now deceased, the claim that her illness caused her death is simply not true. When asked for his professional opinion on Funicello’s disease and whether or not it contributed to her death, Dr. Harold Moses, Jr., who did his residency at the famed Mayo Clinic and is now Vanderbilt University’s assistant professor of Neurology, said, “I think she likely had primary progressive MS She also likely did not die from MS but from complications most likely related to infection.”
It is important to note that while, as Moses predicts, Funicello likely had primary progressive MS, that is only one of the two main types of MS. Primary progressive MS steadily worsens after a person is diagnosed, and it only affects 10 to 15 percent of MS patients. The other 85 to 90 percent of MS patients have what is called relapsing-remitting MS. With RRMS, a person has periodic attacks of symptoms, or relapses, followed by partial or complete recovery, or remissions.
Many turn to the media for their education about the disease. Sharon Osbourne became an ambassador for MS when her son Jack was diagnosed with it last year. Her status as talk show host, and wife of rock music legend Ozzy Osbourne hardly gives Sharon the credibility to speak on medical matters.
It’s understandable to be frightened when your child is diagnosed with a disease you can’t understand or predict, but carrying on as if it’s a death sentence is ridiculous, especially since, as the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation reports, “MS is neither contagious, nor fatal. People with MS have a life expectancy that is not really any different from the general population. The leading causes of death in the MS community are heart disease, cancer and stroke. MS tends to affect quality of life, not quantity of life. There are unusual variants of MS that can be very aggressive and potentially shorten life, but these are not the norm.”
While MS can cause such symptoms as fatigue, weakness, spasticity, balance problems, bladder and bowel problems, numbness, vision loss, tremors and vertigo, it’s important to note that not all symptoms affect all MS patients, and symptoms and signs may be persistent or may cease from time to time.
It’s also important to note that Funicello lived for 25 years post-diagnosis. Since being diagnosed in 2009, I’ve noticed a few twinges of numbness, and I’m not as nimble as I used to be. But neither issue kept me from joining others and walking five miles April 13 to raise awareness for my disease. Through having MS, I’ve learned to more carefully monitor my diet, reduce my stress level, stay hydrated and get plenty of rest. Doing these things not only decrease my likelihood for MS flare-ups, they make me happier and healthier in general, which is something we all should strive to be, disease-stricken or not.