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Chris Wright, MS, and Perservering

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

Wright became the first known NBA player with multiple sclerosis, and I look at my own battle with the disease.

Chris Wright, MS, and Perservering

The Dallas Mavericks called up Iowa Energy point guard Chris Wright and signed him to a 10-day contract today before their game on Tuesday. The move was made official yesterday, and Wright tweeted out the news. There's nothing extraordinary about a move like this, especially with injuries piling up around the league. Plus, Wright had been performing extremely well this year, boasting a gaudy seven assists-per-game this year for Iowa while also chipping in over 15 points a contest.

As Dan Devine explains over at Yahoo!'s Ball Don't Lie blog, there is something extraordinary about the signing.

Even if the undrafted D-League point guard doesn't stir the echoes of Linsanity, though, Wright's call-up remains noteworthy, because when he signs his 10-day before Dallas' Tuesday night matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks, he'll become the first person who suffers from multiple sclerosis to play in the NBA.

As someone living with MS, this story really hits home for me. When I woke up back in the summer of 2007, just two days before I was set to leave for my freshman year at UMass Amherst, my right hand was completely numb. I went for a run thinking nothing of it, but before long the numbness had slowly engulfed my entire arm. Even parts of my neck had lost sensation. After being diagnosed with a one-off neurological disorder, Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM), earlier in the year, this new symptom troubled me. 

The next day, I went into New York City to meet my neurologist and received another MRI, one that revealed new active lesions on my brain and spine. That's when I heard the diagnosis: "You have Multiple Sclerosis and will be on some form of medication for the rest of your life." Leaving my home for school the next day wasn't easy, to say the least.

As scary as my diagnosis was, I don't know if it compares to the way Wright found out about his disease. Once his career at Georgetown came to an end, Wright went to Europe after being passed over by the NBA. That's when the disease struck, and Anthony Oliva chronicled how Wright's MS manifested itself:

“It was kind of weird,” Wright said, thinking back on the moment.” I didn’t know, I was thinking maybe I stumbled over my foot or something like that, but that night it got progressively worse and the next morning I came in to shoot early before practice and I lost all sensation in basically my right leg and my right hand.” [...]

He immediately sought medical attention. The initial diagnosis, while not definitive at the time, was that he had Multiple Sclerosis – M.S. – disease that attacks the Central Nervous System and, at worst, can cause complete or partial paralysis. 

With no notice, this new opponent blindsided a man who, just days prior, had focused himself squarely – often solely – on improving his game in hopes of one day making an NBA roster. In fact, Wright was not even sure of the severity of the problem he faced right away.

“Honestly, I didn’t know what M.S. was,” Wright said with a laugh. “Then I remember a couple of my teammates came into the hospital and I was laying on the bed and they were all looking at me like, ‘oh my God’ like it’s something serious, and I was just like, ‘man, why you all looking at me like that? I don’t even know what’s going on.’”

Soon thereafter -- his playing days indefinitely on hold -- Wright came back to the States to seek further medical attention, where doctors confirmed what he was told in Turkey.

Chris Wright has M.S.

MS is a neurological autoimmune disorder that attacks the myelin sheath, the fatty substance that coats nerve receptors. The myelin sheath ensures the proper sending of nerve signals from the brain to the rest of the body. With MS, the sheath begins to attack itself and disintegrate. When the sheath is damaged, nerve signals can't be sent and received properly. This can lead to things like loss of sensation, impaired or lost vision, severe pain, loss of motor skills, and even loss of lucidity. Before treatment options were available, MS was considered a terminal illness because it would break down the body so completely. 

What Wright has been able to accomplish no more than 8 months after this diagnosis is nothing short of remarkable. To go from being told that your playing career is over to the NBA in that time is something that really inspires me. I have been pretty blessed since I was diagnosed back in 2007. My symptoms haven't been too serious, and I've been able to live almost like I didn't have the disease for quite a while thanks to medication. Still, it hasn't been easy. I have gone through many rough patches mentally and now physically over the years. I was in remission for over five years after the diagnosis, but have since suffered a relapse. In November, my left side and leg became numb and I received steroid treatments to try and counter the symptoms. Then shortly after New Year's, I awoke to find both hands and feet without sensation. 

Altogether, I've spent countless hours in hospital waiting rooms and infusion centers. I've gone through 11 rounds of intravenous steroid infusions since the relapse. After two and a half months, the feeling hasn't completely returned to my hands, even though there has been some improvement. Feelings of self-doubt and hopelessness often creep in my mind even during periods of remission due to my condition. When I'm going through periods like this, I almost feel like less of a person, and even though I have a great support system, it's hard to climb out of these holes when you fall in them.

Stories like Wright's, though, really do inspire hope. Wright could have walked away. He could have let this thing control him, but instead he took control. He didn't let the disease stand between him and his dreams of playing in the NBA. Wright attacked this thing head on and didn't waver mentally. I am sure Wright had his moments of weakness here or there, as we all do, but he stayed positive. From Oliva's story:

While it was his physical ability being threatened, it was his mental edge that helped him persevere, Wright said. Despite the reports and the harsh realities of M.S., that he always believed he’d play basketball again.

“It was frightening for a minute, but I never once got down about it,” Wright said. “It was just like, whatever the process is; I’ll do what I have to do.”

I don't know Chris Wright personally, but I know his story. We are both living it. I've been able to maintain a mostly normal life with MS, and Wright has been able to achieve great things in spite of his illness. MS is a very debilitating disease, but it doesn't have to be. Wright has proven that with the right approach, you can do amazing things even after setbacks like this. It's all about persevering, and hopefully Wright's story of strength and will can inspire more people to be proactive with their condition. Whenever I start to doubt myself, I can think of Wright and know that things can be better.

Let CHARGED.fm get you tickets to see the Dallas Mavericks all season long.

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