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Lamar Baker - He Is Not His Disease

Just a week before he was headed to college to play basketball, Lamar Baker woke up and had trouble walking, again. He had the same feeling several months prior – like he had a golf ball under his right foot – but he had been treated with steroids and recovered. This time, he was also vomiting.

Instead of heading from his Teaneck home to a small South Carolina college, he went to the emergency department. He was shocked to learn he had multiple sclerosis. Lamar was 20 years old and the father of a 4-year-old boy. He didn't know a thing about MS except the fear it triggered. Alone in his hospital bed, he wept.

"All of a sudden I hear a woman's voice telling me, "'Stop crying,'" Lamar said. "A nurse was standing there and she told me, 'So you got MS. You going to spend the rest of your life crying about it?'"

From that moment on, Lamar said he lives life with the motto, "I have MS, but MS doesn't have me."

When he was first diagnosed, though Lamar was in another area hospital, the staff there recommended the regional MS Center at Holy Name Medical Center. At his first appointment he saw Dr. Mary Ann Picone, Medical Director of the MS Center, and has been under her care for the past eight years.

While the nurse's abruptness in the other hospital made Lamar face his disease, it's been Dr. Picone's steadfast calmness, empathy and optimism that has triggered his recovery.

"Dr. Picone keeps me strong," Lamar said. "She's always there for me, answering my questions and knowing exactly what type of treatment I need."

Lamar's recovery hasn't been easy. After being diagnosed, he declined rapidly and to such a degree that he needed a year in a rehabilitation facility. The severe vomiting took 40 pounds off his 6'2" frame, and he could no longer walk. For more than a year, his tremors were so violent, he couldn't bring a fork to his mouth. His spine was weak, preventing him from sitting up without support and he needed a wheelchair.

But slowly he began to improve. His mother played a big role – telling him "that wheelchair isn't allowed in my house." Friends and family were also on hand to encourage and support him. But what likely propelled him forward the most was his love for his brother, who passed away from sickle cell anemia while Lamar was struggling with his disease.

"I saw from my brother that you just never know and I owe him to give it my best shot," Lamar said. "There's not a day that goes by that I don't think of him and try to push myself."

But Lamar said his continued improvement would not be happening without Dr. Picone's expertise and focused treatment plan.

"I try to listen to everything she says – exercise and eat right," Lamar said. "I walk, go to the gym and I get 6-hour infusions four times a year, which keeps me feeling good. The Center at Holy Name is helping me live my life. I can do everything."