A Brooklyn College student is organizing a walk in Manhattan on April 15 to raise awareness of multiple sclerosis, a central nervous system disorder he was diagnosed with when he was 18-years-old.
Bensonhurst native Jamil Luis Cruz discovered he had the disease just months after joining the Navy five years ago, and since then he has been on a mission to change the public’s perception of the disease.
“When I tell people that I have multiple sclerosis, they say ‘Are you serious? You shouldn’t be as active as you are’ or ‘You don’t look like you have it,’ ” said Cruz. “I’m very lucky I guess because I was diagnosed very early.”
Cruz participated in his first fund-raising walks for multiple sclerosis as a cub scout before he really understood what the disease was. His only knowledge of the illness then was from a family friend who is partially paralyzed from it.
“I actually started walking when I was 8 years old and didn’t have MS then,” he said. “My cub scout pack did a multiple sclerosis walk every year and I didn’t know what that was, but I figured if everyone else was doing it I wanted to do it too.”
The annual multiple sclerosis walk, led by his Boy Scout leader, petered out after five years, but shortly after his diagnosis, Cruz — by then an Eagle Scout — decided to revive it.
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic neurological disease affecting the brain and spine. It often disrupts the body’s nerve functions, causing severe damage and a myriad of symptoms affecting vision and mobility, but the effects can sometimes be subtle. For many sufferers, including Cruz, the disease is a hidden disability unknown to most unless disclosed.
The symptoms depend on the person and how early the disease was diagnosed, according to Cruz’s doctor, a neurologist at New York University Langone Hospital — Brooklyn.
“Regardless of the type of disability, especially at early stages, symptoms may not always be physical,” said Dr. Nada Abou-Fayssal. “But a lot of symptoms that people experience prevent someone from functioning normally, or feeling fatigue and pain that could prevent them from holding a job.”
A side effect that often comes with the disease is depression, she added, but said that Cruz has remained upbeat, and can serve as an example to others living with multiple sclerosis.
“It’s not uncommon that I have patients that look good when they come to see me, but are also dealing with depression from having a chronic disease,” she said. “He is an amazing guy. He’s gone through a variety of medications and that’s not stopping him. He always has a great positive attitude and he doesn’t let things stop him — he’s a true leader.”
Cruz’s treatment regimen includes taking a half-dozen medications — some weekly and others twice a year, to control his symptoms. He also takes anti-depressants and is socially active in school, church, and with the Boy Scouts.
He does not always disclose his disorder to everyone he meets, but he tries to spread the word because he believes the more people who know about it, the closer researchers will be to finding a cure.
“I believe I will see a cure for multiple sclerosis in my lifetime, so I tell as many people as I can. I tell my classmates after I’ve known them for a while, because I do want to raise the awareness,” said Cruz.
His goal overall is to increase knowledge about his disease to rally support for research as with other more commonly known diseases.
“Lets say someone comes over to you and says donate to breast cancer, everybody would give money, but when it comes to multiple sclerosis people ask ‘What’s that?’ said Cruz. “The more awareness, the more people that don’t know about it will hopefully want to donate. If I can get one person who didn’t know about multiple sclerosis before to donate, then I’ve done my job.”
“Walk MS” Pier 97 (Hudson River Greenway at W. 57th Street in Hell’s Kitchen, www.natio