James Dean and Family

Union resident James Dean and his friends play on the name he shares with the late Hollywood movie star by calling their team in the Walk MS event Rebels With a Cause.

The group plans to take part in this year’s event, set for Saturday, Sept. 21, at Lions Lake in Washington.

Diagnosed in January 1997 when he was 39, Dean said his first symptom of MS was that one side of his face felt numb. Because it was wintertime, he initially thought he could have a touch of frostbite.

But when the numbness didn’t go away after a week, he called the doctor’s office. A nurse promptly told him to come in immediately.

After Bell’s palsy, a disorder of the nerve that controls muscles in the face, was ruled out and a CT scan found nothing unusual, Dean was sent for an MRI.

His family physician believed the problem could be MS, so Dean took his MRI results to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for a second opinion.

There the diagnosis was “mono sclerosis,” said Dean, because he only had the one symptom.

A year later, though, he had more — problems with his peripheral vision and acid reflux.

“But they only persisted for about two weeks,” said Dean.

He didn’t start taking medication until 2002, and the following year is when he moved to Union from Minnesota.

Dean said he was able to continue working his job in sales for about 10 years after his diagnosis. He had to go on disability in 2007 after he began having problems walking, which made him prone to falling.

In 2008, Dean got involved with the MS Society and in 2009, he began volunteering with Walk MS.

“I wanted to be making connections, establishing relationships, getting to know people,” Dean told The Missourian.

He is a people-person and missed the interaction with others that his sales job used to provide. He became an MS ambassador in 2009 and accepted speaking engagements on behalf of the MS Society Gateway Chapter.

“I would talk about the chapter and what all it offers, give them information,” said Dean.

About three years ago, he got involved with the MS support group that meets monthly at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in Washington. The group meets the third Monday of each month at 6 p.m.

Anyone with MS is invited to attend, along with family members.

Meetings often include speakers (like pharmaceutical reps or doctors to talk about new medications) but there always is time for open discussion.

“It’s about getting to know each other,” said Dean, who admits it can take a while for people attending to open up to the group.

“We want to be a support to them.”

Today, Dean requires a wheelchair to get around, but he hasn’t let that stop him from being social. He does the family grocery shopping and is involved in his church.

“I’m not going to let (MS) dominate my life,” he remarked.

“I like to be with people, meeting people. It gives me a more positive outlook,” he said. “The more I’m out in public, the more I’m not defined by MS or my wheelchair.”