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Victor Familia

Fighting MS at 13

Holy Name MS Patient - Victor Familia

Throw a curveball at Victor Familia and he'll hit it out of the park. Every time.

He was only a freshman when he made his high school varsity baseball team and at 13, faced a life-changing diagnosis with a dignity and strength beyond his years.

After months of tests and a variety of doctors, Victor was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a potentially disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord that causes communication problems between the brain and the rest of the body. Eventually, the disease can cause permanent damage to the nerves. One in 5,000 children in U.S. have the disease.

Victor's first symptom was barely a blip, though a strange one, on his teenage radar. He drooled a couple of times while doing his class work. He thought it odd since he didn't even drool while sleeping but with his focus on school and baseball, he quickly forgot about it.

About a month later, Victor's smile seemed off, "like it was falling off my face," he said. His frantic parents rushed him to a hospital emergency department near their Jersey City home. Tests showed nothing conclusive and Victor started seeing various specialists.

One of the physicians recommended Dr. Mary Ann Picone, Medical Director of The Alfiero & Lucia Palestroni Foundation Multiple Sclerosis Center at Holy Name. She prescribed further tests, including an MRI, which Victor had refused to undergo in a different hospital.

"At Holy Name, the MRI was open, and I was able to handle it much better," Victor said. "And the staff made me feel more comfortable so I was able to get through it."

Victor also needed a lumbar puncture (spinal tap). The procedure wasn't too bad, he said, but after, he needed to lie flat for several days or he suffered severe back pain. Trouble was, he had a baseball game that week.

"I was afraid of losing my spot on the team so I forced myself to get up and asked my dad to bring me to the game," Victor said. "I laid on a bench in the dugout to watch it."

That fortitude, already developed at such a young age, helped Victor cope with his diagnosis. He cried a bit when he saw his parents weeping at the news, but he remained strong. He relied on Dr. Picone and trusted her when she said he would live a normal life.

"I didn't really understand what I had but I knew it wasn't good and I'd have to deal with it for the rest of my life," he said. "Since Dr. Picone was very comforting and seemed so sure of what she was saying, I believed her and just wanted to start treatment."

His optimism didn't waver, despite two relapses months apart. He was rushed to Holy Name's Emergency Department, first when his vision was blurry and then when the left side of his body went numb. At that, he did panic a bit and asked his mother if he suffered a stroke. Hospital staff assured him it was his MS.

"Dr. Picone changed my medication and since that day, I haven't had a relapse," he said. "It's been five years and my life is great."

Now 20, Victor is living the life that Dr. Picone promised. He landed an internship at Major League Baseball and is finishing up his bachelor's degree at Rutgers University. Next, he's eyeing an MBA in Global Sports Business.

"Dr. Picone said I would live a normal life and that has come to fruition," he said. "The only time I remember I have MS is when I go twice a year for MRIs and monthly for treatment. I'm so blessed. I don't look at what's wrong with me – I look at what I can do. And there's no limit on that."

Learn more about Victor's Neurologist