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    By Armando Vazquez

    My daughter Xochitl Isabel Hernandez, the oldest of my three children, will be celebrating her birthday this week. The birthday celebration comes at a time when my dearest daughter has recently been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Xochitl is the second of my three children that has been afflicted and now medically diagnosed with the insidious and mysterious MS illness. Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune and demyelinating disease where the insulating covering tissue of nerve cells in the spinal cord and the brain are attacked and damaged by the body’s own white cells. The reason for the white cells turning on their own nervous system is still a medical mystery.  This acutely sensitive damage affects and disrupts the ability of parts of the nervous system to properly communicate.

    A typical side effect of MS is extreme fatigue, weakening, burning and tingling of the limbs, partial or total loss of limb control, migraine like headaches and numerous other physical and psychological effect too numerous to mention, and they can manifest at any time and in vary degrees of severity. At this time there is no known cure for MS, although in the past 25 years there has been tremendous medical progress made in the treatment of MS.

    Whereas my son’s MS began when he was 16 year teenager, Xochitl’s MS developed later in her adult years. And while my son Aaron’s MS was one of the most aggressive and debilitating manifestation of the disease that Neurologist and MS special had ever seen at UCLA, Xochitl’s MS has been less aggressive. You ask any Neurologist and MS specialist why the MS manifest as it does and they will invariably shrugged their shoulders and tell they simple do not know.

    Xochitl is a brilliant and loving master school teacher working at Langdon Elementary School in the San Fernando Valley, in one of the toughest neighborhoods in all of Los Angeles County. Xochitl would have no other way, she has turned down various teaching position offered to her to work in “safer and less challenging” school, she has turned all the offers down. Xochitl find that her mission of working with mostly poor Central American children and their parents is what keeps her mind and soul centered, balanced, and grateful. She loves working with these Central American kids, where a vast majority of them are refugees and immigrants, fleeing from war, terror and violence. Xochitl tell me that these kids have suffered greatly and yet are still loving, respectful and super eager to learn. She tell me that these kids teach her a lot about perseverance and resiliency, they teach her a lot about pain and suffering. These kids teach Xochitl about coping and dealing with the life’s trials and tribulations.

    A disease like MS affects the entire family. My brave daughter will need all the loving support that she can get from her family, and her extended family whom are her living students. Xochitl is first and foremost a woman of great and unwavering faith. As God would have it she has an incredibly loving and caring husband and two angelic and brilliant daughters. My wonderful and loving daughter is in caring, gentle and loving hands. The Hernandez family, as with my family earlier, almost 17 years ago, will have their lives altered irrevocably and forever. That is what a chronic  illness like MS will do it will wreaked havoc and destruction to the family, if the family is not united in faith and in love. We will have to work for the rest of our lives as a team, the entire family, to fight this disease together.

    Xochitl and Aaron, both afflicted with MS, have not let the disease consume their lives. Each and every day they fight the MS fatigue, pain and the myriad of complications that come with the affliction. Today both are strong local and national advocates in promoting awareness and education regarding MS, especially in the Latino population. Historically MS was relatively unknown (perhaps acutely under reported?) in the Latino population. However in the few decades more and more Latino are being diagnosed with MS. This new outbreak and development of new population of MS sufferers and why it is occurring now remain a mystery, like so many scientific medical mysteries associated with MS in general. Another of the more baffling and mysterious area of medical inquiries at the moment are the origins of MS. Is MS brought about by the environment, is it hereditary or both. At this time medical science still does not have the definitive answer. MS research, however is getting close to answering some or all of this medical riddles and with the answers may come a potential cure.

    So today you will find that Xochitl and Aaron are MS activist on social media, at schools, church, sporting events and other public venues where they lovingly and expertly educating and informing a public that is unaware, extremely ill-informed about MS and autoimmune diseases in general. I too have become a MS advocate and all of you in the community can become knowledgeable advocates.

    Here is how: Get involved with the national and local Multiple Sclerosis Society, get on the email and follow them on their web-page, they provide cutting edge information on MS. Get involved in MS Awareness Month, typically it is held in March of each year, but you can make MS awareness all year long. The MS awareness month focus on local, national and international awareness and the world become our educational and advocacy stage. Many folks in the community have heard of Multiple Sclerosis but beyond that know very little about the disease, it during the MS awareness month that we spread awareness about those living with MS by creating a more informed and empathetic public to the physical, emotional and mental symptoms and suffering associated with MS. Become involved with a local MS chapter and volunteer at one off the various events that we schedule in your local area to raise awareness, conduct fund raising activities, and do advocacy work. Xochitl and Aaron and the millions of MS sufferers throughout the world need you informed and active help. Together we can find a cure to MS.

    Armando Vazquez, M.Ed.  is Executive Director of  Acuna Art Gallery/Café on A, Executive Director for The KEYS Leadership Academy and Chairman of the Oxnard Multicultural Mental Health/coalition


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