In 1980, Montel Williams was about to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., when he began to experience vision problems in his left eye.
At the time, the robust young weightlifter didn’t suspect that the sudden blurring, twitching and blind spot were multiple sclerosis symptoms. And his doctors didn’t either – even though many people with MS have vision problems when they’re first diagnosed.
“I was a 22-year-old African-American male in the best shape of my life,” Williams, now 57, tells Lifescript. “At the time, many doctors thought MS primarily affected Caucasian women.”
A chronic disease that affects the central nervous system, MS occurs when the patient’s own immune system damages the material that protects nerve fibers, called the myelin sheath. As a result, it slows or blocks messages between the brain and body, causing issues such as fatigue, numbness, cognitive and vision problems.
His symptoms, which came and went, didn’t stop Williams from serving as a naval intelligence officer for 22 years. Afterward, he gave talks to encourage teens to reach their full potential. His inspirational public speaking skills led to “The Montel Williams Show,” a daytime talk show that aired from 1991 to 1998. He also acted in TV shows such as “Jag” and “Touched by an Angel.”
Despite his career success, his physical problems continued.
“I had intermittent symptoms over the years – I would lose the vision in my left eye, but then it would return after several days,” Williams says. “I also had days where I would feel pain or numbness, but I would chalk it up to a strenuous workout.”
But in 1999, Williams, then a father of four, began experiencing a new, more severe symptom that he couldn’t ignore: an extreme burning pain in his legs. He had an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging scan that takes detailed pictures of a person’s central nervous system, which can show lesions, or areas where there may be damage), which finally led doctors to MS....