Tampa man's resilience fuels hope for those living with MS

On his patio-turned-gym in New Tampa, Brad Romp works his muscles; bicep curls, chest presses, and squats. 

Never far from his mind is the day those muscles stopped working for him. The year was 2005. He and his wife, Michelle, were vacationing in Hawaii. 

"I was playing golf and, out of nowhere, I lost my balance and fell," said Romp. "I hadn't had a drop to drink. I just fell."

The coordination problems worsened after they returned home and he resumed coaching his son's baseball team. 

"I'm out there on the field and I just couldn't throw the ball," said Romp. "It was the weirdest thing. My arm wouldn't listen to my brain."

Brad, at the time, was an athletic 44-year-old with no prior health issues, so the sudden lack of muscle control was troubling, to say the least. He eventually went to a neurologist who ordered an MRI. He'll never forget the day the radiologist showed him the scans of his brain and spine. 

"He goes 'I don't know how to tell you this, Brad, but you have MS'," said Romp. "I remember it like it was yesterday. It changed my life."

MS, or multiple sclerosis, is a debilitating autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. We don't know what causes it. Almost a million Americans suffer from it and there is no cure.

For some reason, the body's immune system attacks the myelin sheath that covers nerve fibers, disrupting signals to and from the brain. This causes an array of unpredictable symptoms affecting the mind and body: weakness, numbness, chronic pain, tingling, fatigue, loss of balance, stiffness in limbs, vision problems, bladder dysfunction, cognitive issues, depression, and -- less common -- seizures, speech problems, tremors, hearing loss, and respiration trouble.  

A few months after his diagnosis, Romp couldn't lift his left arm at all and his lower limbs wouldn't cooperate. 

"My legs felt like I was in quicksand," said Romp. "My mind was saying one thing, but my legs were doing something else." 

But 14 years later, the father of two is managing his MS remarkably well. To see him lift weights and ride a bicycle and walk around his property, you would think Romp is a perfectly-fit 58-year-old. He gives a lot of credit to regular exercise and a clean diet. But he says the big game-changer for him came when his doctor put him on Interferon beta-1b, an injectable drug that reduces episodes of MS symptoms. 

"There are some very good MS drugs on the market now," said Romp. "What is most effective for one patient may not be the most effective for another. But I found Interferon works best for me." 

The drugs might not exist if it wasn't for the work of the National MS Society, the non-profit dedicated to defeating the disease. NMSS not only raises awareness of the illness but also raises a lot of money for research and programs that support those who live with MS. 

Eden Quayle works for the Mid Florida Chapter of NMSS. He says research over the past decade has led to better medicines and better treatment for patients, but the Society's ultimate goal -- its mission -- is to find a cure.   

"We fully believe that we can find a cure within Brad Romp's lifetime," says Quayle. 

Researchers are developing drugs that could repair the damage done to nerve fibers, which could restore the brain's control over muscles. 

"That's why the money we raise through our events like Walk MS and Bike MS are so critical," says Quayle.  

And that's what makes Romp's story all the more inspiring. He has become a fundraising machine for NMSS -- a machine powered by the very legs that first indicated he had the disease. Starting in 2007, two years after his diagnosis, Romp has ridden in every Bike MS event in central Florida. It's a two-day event comprised of two rides: one 50-mile ride and one double that distance. This year, Romp was the only MS patient to ride the full 150 miles. He finished the 100-mile course in six hours, 47 minutes -- a new personal best. Even more impressive, though, was the financial goal he reached: his team, Romp To Cure MS, raised almost $19,000, collecting pledges and donations from friends, strangers, and corporations. 

"Every dollar is a step closer to a cure," says Quayle. "So it's hard to put a price on just how much Brad has helped all people who are living with the very disease he fights so bravely every day." 

"I truly believe I won't have to live the rest of my life with MS," says Romp. "A cure is around the corner." 

Brad Romp is already collecting donations to sponsor his next Bike MS ride. You can help here: https://secure.nationalmssociety.org/site/TR?fr_id=30905&pg=personal&px=3089796

And if you're interested in riding in Bike MS or learning more about MS, you can do so here: https://secure.nationalmssociety.org/site/TR/Bike/FLCBikeEvents?pg=entry&fr_id=30905

Youtube: What is MS? - National MS Society