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Jimmie Heuga changed thinking on MS and exercise

Olympic bronze medalist Jimmie Heuga, left, and Olympic silver medalist Billy Kidd in December 2009 at Beaver Creek, Colorado. (Getty Images)

In 1964, Jimmie Heuga became one of the first two Americans -- along with Billy Kidd -- to win an Olympic medal in Alpine skiing.

In 1970, at age 26, Heuga was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Back then, people with MS were counseled to curtail physical activity, which was thought to exacerbate symptoms.

Heuga didn't buy that. He chose to continue an active lifestyle, set goals, live life with passion. And through his example, the MS community came to see that exercise in fact can be therapeutic and can help people manage the disease.

Jimmie Heuga died on Monday at age 66. His friends say the past year was a rough one. The wheelchair-bound Heuga used a wheelchair and suffered respiratory difficulties.

But Heuga's efforts to help people with MS get the most out of life continue through Can Do MS, an organization he founded (as The Jimmie Heuga Center for Multiple Sclerosis) in 1984.

Heuga's death comes at an otherwise exciting time in the MS world: Many new medications are being developed, and last month the first drug to actually treat a specific MS symptom was approved by the FDA. Two oral therapies are inching close to FDA approval, offering new options to those of us who currently inject our medications.

Twenty-five years ago MS was considered untreatable. Since then it has become, for many, manageable through drug therapy combined with such lifestyle behaviors as exercise, which can help our bodies cope with the disorder and manage the stress that can worsen our symptoms.

Much of that progress can be traced to Jimmie Heuga's eye-opening campaign to demonstrate that MS didn't necessarily mean a life of inactivity. I know I'm not alone in feeling grateful to him, and inspired by his example.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  February 11, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Chronic Conditions , Multiple Sclerosis , Neurological disorders  
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Please stop describing people as "wheelchair bound." Good grief! He wasn't tied to it! People use wheelchairs. It's just as easy to write, "Heuga used a wheelchair and had respiratory difficulties."

Posted by: drl97 | February 11, 2010 8:25 AM | Report abuse

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