The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation helped found the Marilyn Hilton MS Achievement Center to help those living with Progressive MS regain control of their lives and well-being.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic and often disabling disease of the central nervous system, which is composed of the brain, spinal cord, and optic system. The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation helped found the Marilyn Hilton MS Achievement Center to help those living with Progressive MS regain control of their lives and well-being.

When Mary Frazier was diagnosed with MS in 1966, patients with this incurable neurological condition were often misdiagnosed, untreated, and dismissed without much hope. There wasn’t very much that could be done at the time medically but to tell clients to manage life as best as they can. In fact, that’s exactly what Mary did!

I recently had a chance to interview Mary and asked her to share a few of her life lessons about how she has spent most of her adult life living well with MS. She gave us a hint about her fighting spirit and tremendous self-determination when she said, “I’m not one to dwell on my problems, what good would a pity party do?” While her MS has progressed over the past 48 years, she credits her strength of mind and body to making the most out of every day.

Just last year a good friend introduced her to REACH to Achieve—a unique day wellness program offered at the Marilyn Hilton MS Achievement Center at UCLA to help people with MS address the challenges of daily life within a framework of physical, recreational, and emotional wellness. “I thought I would give it a try. If I didn’t like it, I didn’t need to go,” said Frazier. The Center became a perfect fit to support her physically, emotionally, and spiritually in her success in managing MS, instead of allowing it to manage her.

Founded in June 2001 with a start-up grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the Center was established thanks to a collaborative effort between the UCLA Department of Neurology, and the Southern California Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS). It is driven by the philosophy that people with MS can be empowered to take control of their health and well-being with the help of educational and experiential programs. To this end, the Center offers a variety of wellness programs and services that complement participants’ medical management of their disease…all in a setting of shared support.

When asked what she likes best about the REACH to Achieve program Mary says, “Everything!” REACH uses a variety of creative approaches to help members realize their personal wellness goals over the course of a 5-hour day at the center each week. Participants experience therapeutic recreation in the form of games, music therapy, journaling, and gardening to name a few. “I’ve always enjoyed gardening. Here I have the freedom to garden as I want, standing up in the adaptive garden.”

Mary exercising on an adaptive machine

Exercise and fitness, including yoga, Tai Chi and personal training, are a part of everyday activities at the Center. “I love fitness!” She gives credit to her individual time with the Center’s clinical exercise specialist, Ashley, for helping her get her balance back. “I can stand without falling and get up and out of a chair more easily,” explains Mary. “I’m serious about this; you’ve got to keep doing it!”

Art therapy gives Center members the opportunity to express their feelings about life with MS through their artwork, using a variety of mediums. Mary looks forward to these sessions, not just to explore what she can do, but to inspire others in her group try new things. “We help and encourage each other, so we all win.”

Other activities are designed to provide socialization and challenge cognition. The program also offers health education focusing on disease and symptom management, nutrition, and general health practices.

Along with her Wednesday cohort group, Mary credits the talented and supportive staff that create a safe and fun environment in which she can reach her personal goals. But what Mary likes most is the friendships that have developed. “It’s like a big family. We get along so well, and sometimes we can just be silly.” Here, there’s no need to explain life with MS because everyone understands. They cheer each other on and inspire each other each day knowing achievement has no finish line. And, we cheer Mary and every person with MS that reaches to achieve wellness despite the unpredictability and unknown course of this disease.