It’s not unusual to have life-changing events throughout your journey on this planet. Many of these transitional experiences may influence who you become, what you do, and sometimes, change your life and its direction. But for one kind and unselfish woman, a medical diagnosis not only is changing her life, but it is giving hope and life-saving benefits to many others.
A Startling Medical Diagnosis
Nancy Davis, a philanthropist and foundation creator from Los Angeles, shares her life-altering circumstances. In a lengthy phone interview, Nancy’s drive, unending energy and concern for others becomes apparent. She talks openly about her health struggles and her own surprising medical diagnosis when she was in her early 30s. Ultimately, it shook her life as she knew it. “I was devastated,” she remembers.
Growing up in Denver, Nancy was an avid and skilled skier. However, as fate would have it, a skiing accident in Aspen in 1991, when she was 33, was the beginning of her quest to get answers and cures to a medical problem she didn’t know she had. This accident immediately changed her life, and fortuitously, in various ways, is changing the lives of many others.
Eager to tell her story, Nancy relates that following the skiing mishap that tore her ACL, she began having symptoms totally unrelated to her injury and the knee brace. “About three weeks after the accident I woke up and I was having these crazy symptoms. I started losing the feeling first in three fingertips of my right hand, and then the fingertips in my left hand, and then my whole hand,” she remembers. “Every few days I had more numbness; and I noticed my eyesight failing.”
Nancy consulted her orthopedic doctor thinking perhaps the brace was pinching against a nerve and causing the numbness. The doctor agreed that something had “gone strangely awry here.” She said it didn’t make sense to him and he referred her to a neurologist. This new doctor ordered numerous tests, including an MRI, and gave Nancy the shocking news the next day that she had multiple sclerosis (MS), a degenerative neurological disease.
“At that time,” Nancy remembers, “I was a young mom with three children to take care of. I wasn’t in a particularly good marriage, and here the doctor is telling me that my life as I knew it was over.” He went on to tell her that she could have trouble walking, and, if she was lucky, she may be able to lift a remote to change the TV station. He cautioned that she probably wouldn’t be able to care for herself.
“I was young. I couldn’t accept this news,” she recalls. “I had a lot of life to live. It wasn’t what I had planned.”
Nancy wouldn’t accept this prognosis. She sought others’ opinions and did extensive research. “I realized finding answers myself was the most important thing I could do.”
Through her own investigations and doctors’ consultations, Nancy discovered there was no known cause for MS, no drugs to treat the disease, and basically no hope—at least at that time.
Establishing a Foundation to Fund Research
Growing up in a philanthropic family, charity and fundraising are familiar to Nancy. Her mother successfully established the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes in Aurora, CO, after Nancy’s sister was diagnosed with the disease. Fortunately, because of the family she grew up in, Nancy knew how to be proactive, gather support for a cause, and get things done.
She took control. She had the means and the skills to establish a foundation and garner donations to combat MS and create hope—so, she did. In 1993, she established the Nancy Davis Foundation for Multiple Sclerosis, which is now called Race to Erase MS. This foundation is dedicated to research for the treatment and ultimate cure of MS.
The first Race to Erase MS event was held in Aspen, Colorado in 1993 and raised $1.3 million for the foundation. Since, the event has moved to Los Angeles, and over the years the annual Race to Erase MS gala has raised over $51 million for research.
The 2022 Gala is Back Indoors
This year’s festivities will be held on May 20 and once again be in a resplendent ballroom after resourcefully being held as a Drive-In event at the Rose Bowl for two years because of Covid. “We are finally back indoors,” beams Nancy, “and we are so excited to be opening with a fashion show. Long-time supporter, Tommy Hilfiger, will showcase his amazing line of adaptive clothing and other fashions that night.” Over a thousand attendees are expected to fill the ballroom at the Fairmont Century Plaza Hotel in LA, where they will be entertained by various celebrities, including Niles Rodgers and the band Chic. “We are so lucky to have stars donate their time and talents to help us raise funds,” Nancy says.
The Best Researchers Seek Answers
To date, over 22 drugs, including life-changing infusions and injections, are now on the market to treat MS. There were none when Nancy was diagnosed.
Research is at the core of these breakthroughs. Nancy is very cognizant of the importance and value of research, leading her to establish the Center Without Walls (CWW) program which is funded by the Race to Erase MS foundation. Nancy explains why CWW was founded and why it is so important. “We discovered that so much research is duplicated and the results are not shared or communicated in a timely manner. So, we addressed this by bringing the best physicians and researchers in the nation and world together into one program (CWW) to collaborate on multiple sclerosis.” These young doctors and research professionals meet regularly to share their findings and new discoveries, resulting in more efficient and advanced MS research. “This group is magical,” says Nancy.
When asked what her greatest blessings have been, Nancy ponders for only a few seconds, and then answers from her heart, “My parents.”
She adds, “Watching how my parents viewed a problem, and instead of walking away from it, found a way to solve it, taught me so much.” With a small laugh, she says, “I think it is in my DNA to never take no for an answer.”
In an effort to help others on their journey, Nancy wrote the book, Lean on Me: Ten Powerful Steps to Moving Beyond Your Diagnosis and Taking Back Your Life. This book offers advice to patients who may have received a recent life-changing diagnosis or who are dealing with a chronic illness.
“You need to know that there is another door that can be opened—and there is something you can do,” Nancy states.