By Fern Gillespie
For many years, Dr. Michelle King-Huger was a noted educator working as an assistant principal in several Harlem public schools. Then, in 2007, her life began to crumble. She lost her husband to a heart ailment. By 2011, her continuing health crisis was diagnosed as progressive multiple sclerosis. She evolved from a cane to a walker to a wheelchair.
Recently, the Kaiser Permanente plan in Southern California reported that African Americans have a 47% increased risk of multiple sclerosis, while Hispanic Americans had a 50% lower risk and Asian Americans had an 80% lower risk of MS compared with white Americans.
Black people with MS might also have more aggressive disease progression, greater disability and different symptoms. This includes more walking, balance, and coordination problems, more cognitive and visual symptoms, more frequent relapses with poorer recovery, and earlier disability onset.
Although she is wheelchair-bound with complex healthcare issues, Dr. King-Huger has continued to work. She has used her doctorate as an educator to pen two memoir advice books. Her first book was From D.I.V.A to Disabled: A Determined Individual with a Victorious Attitude focused on self-empowerment through times of medical crisis.
Balancing her MS healthcare routine with her passion for writing, Dr. King-Huger published America’s Battle Against the COVID-19 Pandemic and Social Injustice (Christian Faith Publishers) in 2021. It is a personal and professional memoir tracing the country’s tumultuous historical and unforgettable times from March to December 2020. “The coronavirus pandemic made the world stop in its tracks. The day-to-day routines that were considered a normal part of life were taken from us,” she said. “So many people across our country and across the world now feel disabled and I wonder if this horrific experience will change the insight and perspective of man to show compassion for those who are less fortunate than others. I wanted to share my personal reflections from a cultural perspective. I use statistics, personal surveys, news coverage and encourage ideas for self-growth for the mind, body and soul thought-provoking words quotes and poetry from my Maya Angelo to Barack Obama to John F Kennedy to the Bible.”
The Multiple Sclerosis Society has become a frontline advocate for African Americans with MS. On June 15 and 16, the MS Society will hold the 2022 Black MS Experience Summit, an interactive, two-day virtual program to connect with others in the Black MS Community. The summit will feature leading scientific and healthcare experts. Topics for this year’s program include diagnosis, challenges to care, understanding clinical trials and studies, removing the stigma of mental health services, nurturing emotional and spiritual health, managing long-term outcomes, understanding treatment goals, and exploring complementary and alternative treatments.
Montel Williams, Jennifer Holiday, Lola Falana and the late Richard Pryor are a few of the Black celebrities that have spoken out about living with MS. However, the medical industry has rarely conducted MS clinical trials on African Americans, so limited data is available on the impact of MS among Blacks. To respond to these challenges, the National African Americans with MS Registry (NAAMSR) invites African American patients with MS to join the registry.
“The National MS Society continues to be a driving force for MS research for the nearly 1 million people living with MS in the U.S.,” said Daphne Mack, Senior Manager, PR/Media for the Society. “For Black people, new research has shown MS is more prevalent and aggressive than previously thought so more participants in clinical trials are needed to find out why. This is why the Society’s Black MS Experience Summit is one way to connect people to resources and information unique to the needs of the Black community living with MS.”
Registration is free for the 2022 Black MS Experience Summit at nationalmssociety.org