Driving Risks with Multiple Sclerosis

Last updated: January 2014

Outrage. That’s what I feel when I read the headlines about Trevor Bayne, the 22 year-old NASCAR race driver who  announced that he has Multiple Sclerosis. I’m not angry about his announcement - this news makes me sad that another young person has been handed the dance card with MS for life, and it makes me smile to hear another high profile person come forward and join the public discussion about MS.

What has me seeing red is the discussion by sports writers and the uninformed public, that this young man should perhaps give up his career, because his presence on the track would endanger himself or others. More than one online writer has questioned the safety of having a driver with MS on the track with these other cars. I have to challenge that concern with a larger thought  – is anyone with or without a chronic disease, safe in a car designed to go over 200 miles per hour on a track with 40 other cars and drivers doing the same speed and jockeying to be first?

Don’t assume that I am against automotive racing – a few decades back, my husband and I competed in automotive sports and even had the opportunity to drive laps around the Indy 500 track in Indianapolis at a speed of over 110 mph. It was a thrill and I understand why people are driven to go faster and faster.  I have  been known to stop and watch the final laps of automobile races on TV, but I don’t usually spend hours watching the cars go around and around the oval,  like many race devotees. Everyone who gets behind the wheel of a race car understands the risks involved with speed vs reaction time, and the responsibility to race as safely as possible for the sake of themselves and their fellow drivers on the track.

There is nothing in Trevor Bayne’s story to tell us differently that his current MS symptoms pose a problem with safety or that he would knowingly put other drivers at risk if he thought he would endanger others. He says in interviews with various new organizations that he is on no drugs for his MS that would affect his driving ability. The headlines that call for him to stop racing show how little is known about Multiple Sclerosis by some people.

Trevor Bayne won the Dayton 500 in 2011 and has gone on to win a couple more NASCAR races, although none as headline grabbing as Daytona. That same year he experienced numbness, fatigue, and problems with his vision, and went to Mayo Clinic for treatment. It was the experts at Mayo Clinic who said he had an inflammatory condition, but Bayne thought he might have Lyme Disease, one of the great MS mimics, because of a reaction he had that year to an insect bite. His symptoms subsided and he was sent home to wait. From what I read, Trevor Bayne has been diligent in repeat visits to the doctors and continued looking for answers, even though he did not have a repeat of the symptoms. This is the same path for so many people who have symptoms of MS but don’t immediately show the signs that Neurologists require to give this life-altering diagnosis. He patiently waited, knowing sometimes there isn’t a quick answer for this type of illness. His persistence to get answers was probably spurred on by the knowledge that his younger sister also has MS, and even though it is not generally thought to be a genetically linked disease, he was already educated about the disease and the diagnostic route.

Trevor Bayne was the youngest person to ever win the Dayton 500 and now he continues to have the chance to be the first person with MS to return to the NASCAR winner’s circle.

Wishing you well, Laura


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