Multiple Sclerosis and Climate Change

I was in my second year at the University of Pittsburg’s Anthropology Ph.D. program when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Almost instantly, I lost my vision, ability to talk and walk. Rushed to the hospital, I was diagnosed and placed on a disease-modifying therapy within hours.

A few days later, with everything restored, I met with my Ph.D. adviser.

Well Mike, what are we going to do?

I had no idea. The diagnosis annihilated any chance of completing my original HIV/AIDS research plans in Kiribati. I first went to the Pacific Island Nation of Kiribati as a Peace Corps Volunteer. While there, an acquaintance passed away from mysterious health complications. I eventually learned he passed away from acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS. Two years after service, I returned to the country to work in partnership with the National HIV/AIDS Taskforce. With intentions of returning to continue my work, I was accepted into a Ph.D. program.

MS changed everything. The medicine was not available in my research site, and the availability of refrigeration to maintain it was minimal at best.

Is there anything else you would want to do?

Maybe, I thought.

Having been involved with the country for seven years then, I noticed strange but significant environmental changes occurring. Tides were getting higher, droughts longer and storms were getting stronger. Several nights I watched the ocean rise to be level with or on top of the land. I began to fear the sea.

There is this thing called global warming that I’ve heard a lot about. Many doubt it, but I worry that if real, and nothing is done to stop it, Kiribati may be one of the worst impacted countries. I think it needs attention.

Boat washing onshore during King Tide (2015) Photo Credit: Raimon Kataotao

My research focus changed to global warming impacts on small low lying atoll populations and environmentally induced migration. Twenty years after first stepping into Kiribati, my commitment to this cause and nation remains strong.

Multiple Sclerosis may have slowed me down, and continues to do so from time to time — but it has never stopped me. I see Multiple Sclerosis as a gift. If not for the diagnosis, I would not be where I am today. It has given my life purpose, meaning and opportunity. From one MS Warrior to another, never give up on your dreams, and never give up on the fight!

We are MS Strong!

Climate activist, author, and visiting professor at the University of Cincinnati