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Erase MS

Nancy Davis Devotes Her Life to Battling MS

Posted April 30, 2009

Nancy Davis devotes her life to battling MS, for herself and others
By Sandra Barrera
Updated: 04/29/2009 05:12:40 PM PDT

Nancy Davis, diagnosed with MS 17 years ago will stage her annual event to treat and ultimately cure MS on May 8th. (David Crane/Staff Photographer)
LOOKING FOR A CURE—Nancy Davis, diagnosed with MS 17 years ago will stage her annual event to treat and ultimately cure MS on May 8th. Here, Nancy with her daughters Isabella and Mariella. (David Crane/Staff Photographer)

When Nancy Davis first was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis almost 18 years ago, she was told by the neurologist to go home and go to bed.

“For how long?”

Forever, he told her.

But the then 33-year-old daughter of billionaire Marvin Davis wasn’t about to accept the prognosis without a fight. She created the Nancy Davis Foundation for Multiple Sclerosis and its Center Without Walls, a network of the nation’s top seven research centers whose singular goal is to advance and never repeat studies in the search for a cure.

These experts will be in Los Angeles at 10:30 a.m. May 9 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza alongside Davis and actress Teri Garr to discuss the latest findings in the cure for MS, answer questions and meet privately with people during a free event that’s open to the public. It follows the 16th Annual RACE to Erase MS, a ticketed fundraising event that kicks off National MS Month May 8.

The gala that features performances by the Eagles and Michelle Branch as well as an appearance by Scarlett Johansson is called a “RACE” for a reason.

“I want a cure fast,” Davis says.

MS is a chronic neurological disease that affects three times more women than men. It lays dormant in the body until something stressful kicks off an attack. But symptoms manifest differently depending on the areas of the central nervous system that have been scarred by the overactive immune cells, which damage the fatty protective layer around nerve
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fibers.

The scarring disrupts nerve impulses from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body leading to any number of symptoms, from overwhelming fatigue to an inability to walk.

Looking at Davis you’d never know she has the disease.

At 52, she’s got enough energy to head up her foundation and keep up with her kindergarten-bound twins, Isabella and Mariella, with second husband Ken Rickel. She also has three adult children from a previous marriage. As the blond, blue-eyed girls bounce in and out of the traditional-style living room of the Bel Air mansion where Davis has raised all her children, she embraces them with hugs, kisses and whispers.

Although she experiences flare-ups from time to time, Davis has managed to control the symptoms of her disease and continue with a normal life despite the early prognosis.

Some 18 years ago, Davis was diagnosed with the chronic neurological disease three weeks after tearing her knee ligament on the slopes of Aspen. She woke up one morning without any feeling in the tips of her three middle fingers on her right hand, but she thought nothing of it.

Three days later the fingers of her left hand fell numb, and then she lost the feeling in both hands.

When she walked into the neurologist’s office, she had no sensation in her stomach, and her vision began to blur.

An MRI that followed revealed large spots on her brain and spine.

She remembers the neurologist saying, “You’re really lucky you don’t have a brain tumor, but you do have a disease called multiple sclerosis.”

“From what I knew of multiple sclerosis, it didn’t sound like I was very lucky,” she says. “I pictured a person in a wheelchair for the rest of their life incapable of doing anything. I thought, my life is never going to be the same, and it wasn’t.”

Davis did what the majority of people refuse to do. She challenged the doctor – the inspiration behind her book, “Lean on Me: 10 Powerful Steps to Moving Beyond Your Diagnosis and Taking Back Your Life” – by seeking a number of second opinions, from UCLA to the National Institutes of Health to Harvard.

Each one confirmed the initial diagnosis but offered a different prognosis, including “you can live an OK life” and “exercise can help.”

But there were no magic pills to take. In fact, research into cures for MS were grossly underfunded at the time.

The researchers had unknowingly been duplicating the same studies for 40 years due to lack of communication. And that’s when Davis decided to get involved.

“My sister’s a juvenile diabetic; so my family had a reputation of working on children’s diabetes,” she says. “I thought, if I could get the best and the brightest to work as a team we might find a cure for MS.”

After two attempts at putting something together, the Center Without Walls was born.

Money is channeled in all different areas of MS, from stem cell to genetics to addressing the problem of depression.

“The leading cause of death for people with MS is suicide, which I didn’t know, and that was a really important thing that we were not addressing with all the other research we were doing,” Davis says.

“So, some of the medications that are now available help certain people.”

One of the newer classes of drug is Rituxin, which is FDA approved to treat cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.

It has been found to reduce inflammatory brain lesions inherent in MS, although it hasn’t yet been approved for treating the disease. Still, doctors have been giving it to patients.

One of the benefits of the drug is it requires no daily injections.

Patients are given one intravenous four-hour infusion followed by another two weeks later and not again for a year. The only option given to Davis at the time of her diagnosis was to take steroids for various symptoms.

“Having diabetes running in my family, there was a high propensity also to become diabetic from taking steroids,” she says. “I didn’t want to take steroids anyway.”

She chose instead to go the homeopathic and life-changing route against her doctor’s wishes.

“My traditional doctors to this day don’t agree with it,” Davis says, adding she’s never been on any of the MS medications. “But, ultimately, you have to do what’s right for you.”

Sandra Barrera 818–713-3728 sandra.barrera@dailynews.com

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