Life with MS

My Two Support Heroes

By Marianly H. Primmer

“It was scary listening to them tell me what happened to me.” Gwen Roundtree said the last thing she remembered was sitting on her porch, “I was told I just wandered off.”
Gwen says it’s “brain fog” from her multiple sclerosis. Her husband LeRoy came home from work and found her cell phone on the porch, but Gwen was gone. He called everyone in a panic, but no one had seen or heard from Gwen all day. The couple lives in a wooded area in the country. After searching for her, LeRoy found his wife on the other side of their property. She was far enough away that she had to be brought to the house in a vehicle.
That’s when Gwen’s family decided she needed even more support to tackle her MS. Gwen’s husband LeRoy Roundtree has been by her side from the beginning. Now, her baby sister Pamela Wilson stepped in too. “I feel like I’m a very special person. I’m truly blessed to have two wonderful caregivers.”
Gwen is surrounded by support, but at the moment of her diagnosis she was alone and devastated.
Gwen was a corporal at a juvenile correctional facility and was working a late shift when she felt the left side of her face go numb, followed by tingling on her left side. After waking up with blurry vision the next day, she drove herself to the emergency room after her husband left for work.
A neurologist in the ER told her she had MS. Gwen remembers the doctor’s dire prediction, “You’re going to be in a wheelchair within a few months. You are not going to be able to do anything for yourself. Your family won’t be able to take care of you.”
“The nurses couldn’t believe that he dropped that diagnosis on me without a family member.” Gwen called her husband. He was at the hospital within minutes. Gwen said LeRoy got in her hospital bed and told her, “We are going to have faith. We are going to pray about his and we are going to trust in God.” LeRoy immediately took on the caregiver role. Together LeRoy and Gwen learned about MS.
From the time of her diagnosis, Gwen’s symptoms came on all at once. At 53 years old, she couldn’t walk or even inject her MS medication by herself, “There are days I can’t comb my hair.” Gwen said having a loving caregiver made all the difference.
In fact, having supportive caregivers is so crucial to people with MS that Biogen partnered with MS Focus and other MS organizations to honor caregivers in celebration of National MS Education and Awareness Month® in March. The #MySupportHero campaign featured people with MS and their caregivers on MS Focus: the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. They encouraged people to share and tag or tweet at their caregivers to show their appreciation.
MS Focus also provides free services for caregivers year-round. Their Homecare Assistance Grant works with local agencies that send a caretaker to the home so caregivers can take a respite. The Foundation also offers an annual Caregivers’ Night Out contest where people with MS write about their caregiver to enter to win their caregivers’ a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant.
Gwen entered LeRoy and he was chosen as one of the winners in 2016. However, the following year – five years into Gwen’s diagnosis – things quickly took a turn for the worse.
“I noticed I was forgetting little things,” Gwen said. One day LeRoy came home from work and the kitchen was full of smoke because she had forgotten a pot on the stove. Then Gwen’s disappearance became the last straw.
After a family meeting, Pamela gave up her job to take care of Gwen during the day while LeRoy is at work. Pamela cooks, drives her to doctor’s appointments, and runs errands. “I’m so blessed to have a sister that would do that for me,” Gwen said.
LeRoy takes over after he gets home from work. He also bathes Gwen, takes her for walks to stay active, and does the housekeeping. Gwen’s adult daughter and goddaughter are also there for her when she needs anything.
The family also implemented rules to keep Gwen safe: she stays within a certain distance from the house, and doesn’t shower or turn on the stove while she’s home alone. But Gwen is rarely home alone. “Both of them put their lives on hold to take care of me.”
Gwen says it’s hard to find the words to express her gratitude. “Hallmark don’t make a card that I would be able to give them. I don’t think there are enough flowers that I would be able to give them to let them know how much I appreciate it.”