When Tyler Campbell was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis almost five years ago, the news came as a shock.
At the time, he was 24 and preparing for the NFL draft while a running back at San Diego State University.
Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system. The autoimmune disease interrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body.
“When my episode hit me, it was like nothing I’ve every experienced before. It was quite frightening,” Campbell said, recollecting how it felt not being able to move his arms or legs.
“For you to have something taken away from you without any warning, it’s quite a shock and a scare. I was terrified at first. It was a very humbling experience.”
When he first diagnosed in November 2007, Campbell wanted to continue playing football and finish his education. At the time, Campbell started feeling better due to his medications and thought that he still had a shot as a professional athlete.
He had a positive outlook on living with the MS because it wasn’t holding him back from doing the things that he liked to do.
But then he was hit with a curve ball. Due to his condition, his doctor told him he’d have to forgo a NFL career.
“I didn’t see it as a big deal then, but I see it as a big deal now because it’s just a testament to this disease because it does not mean that your dreams or everyday life can be taken away from you. It does not mean that your world is over,” says Campbell, who hails from Texas.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in prayer. I’d be lying if I said that if I didn’t know the Lord for myself, this would be much more of a struggle. My thing is, I’ve learned that when adversity comes your way, you can’t quit.”
With that in mind, he turned his attention to pursing his education and joining his family’s business, Earl Campbell Meat Products. He currently works as a sales account manager for the Texas-based business. Last September, he married his college sweetheart.
“I now have the opportunity to share my experience to help others living with this disease and make an impact on the MS community.”
Due to lesions on his brain caused by the MS, the right side of Campbell’s body is affected. For instance, when he’s tired, he walks with a noticeable limp on his right side and his right arm will become stiff.
Since he was diagnosed in November 2007, Campbell has been on three different medications to treat the MS.
“I understand the frustration of trial and error that so many go through with this disease because not everybody responses the same way to medication,” Campbell said, noting that he’s been on three different medications for MS since he was diagnosed that were not effective.
He’s finally found a medication that works for him.
“I think that just as much as the medication is important, I think its just as important to have family and friends to lean on from time to time because its hard thing to battle all by yourself.”
His father, Pro Football Hall of Famer Earl Campbell, has partnered with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to honor his son’s struggle with the disease through a specially commissioned piece of art. The limited edition autographed “The Unstoppable Earl Campbell” features Campbell from his days as a University of Texas Longhorn alongside famous Warner Bros. Looney Tunes characters. Proceeds from the art sales are being donated to the National MS Society.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, MS typically affects African Americans differently.
Dr. Thomas Leist, director of the MS Center at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital says approximately 35 percent of his patients are African American.
Some of the disease’s gradual symptoms include loss of coordination, numbness, tingling, difficulty walking, blindness and paralysis.
“The problem is sometimes in African Americans, the initial symptoms are less than clear attacks. The initial event may be less than crystal clear. The other issue that is often in African-American individuals, is that the disease can have a more severe course,” Leist said.
Leist says this could be due to the disease being diagnosed later or the disease has progressed more rapidly.
He noted that many of the trials for the medications that are being used to treat MS, enrolled predominately white populations.
“One of the things is that while we know these medications are effective, sometimes we don’t have a clear view how effective they are in the African-American population because people of African-American descent were only a small minority in these studies,” says Leist.
While there is no cure for MS, Leist says the condition can be managed if patients adhere to their medical regimen.
Because sometimes in patients of African-American descent the diagnosis may be made later or the disease may be more aggressive, it become even more important that a patient is adhering to treatment, Leist says.
The disease is more frequent in women. Approximately 75 percent of those who are newly diagnosed are women in their 20s and 30s.