Not Slowing Down
by Mary Conrad
In 2006, Jorge Enriquez (’07 BBA) was preparing to graduate from Anderson School of Management with a bachelor’s in business administration. He was also lettering in football and preparing for Olympic shotput competition. Then he learned something that would force him to prepare for a much more daunting challenge: At age 23, he had multiple sclerosis.
At that time, Jorge was experiencing MS-related relapses three to four times a week; the right side of his body became paralyzed. Physicians told him he had multiple lesions and scars on his brain and spinal cord. He was stunned. “I didn’t know what MS was,” Jorge admitted.
The diagnosis hit him hard. He was supposed to graduate in 2006, but the disease brought mental, emotional, and physical challenges, and he earned his degree in 2007. He struggled with depression, but eventually overcame it.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease in which the immune system attacks the central nervous system. It’s an often disabling disease with symptoms that range from numbness to paralysis and loss of vision. Symptoms and severity can vary widely among persons who have MS. Jorge, with a gentle and cheerful personality that belies his physical strength, wasn’t going to let MS get the best of him. For him, the best course of action was advocacy and outreach.
After graduation, he began a career in banking and was a Citibank manager for three years, but was laid off during the post-2008 recession. He met “amazing, passionate, strong people” in an aqua aerobics class offered by the Rio Grande Chapter (RGC) of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. At their urging, he began volunteering for the RGC.
“I’m very active with our Rio Grande Chapter,” Jorge said. “I’m on the government relations committee, and we have connected our legislative leaders to their constituents to bring about more awareness of and education on MS.”
He’s currently working with State Senator-Elect Jacob Candelaria to get the Continuity of Prescription Drug Coverage bill passed in New Mexico. The bill would offer a degree of protection to persons with MS who have health insurance coverage.
“Currently, insurance companies can change your copayments without any notice, say, from $20 to $700,” explained Jorge. “People should not be forced to choose between their life-saving medications and their mortgage. We’re just asking insurance companies to honor their (subscribers’) contracts for a year so people with MS can budget accordingly.”
Jorge is also the co-leader for the Rio Grande Chapter’s Spanish outreach committee, which helps families who have language barriers understand MS and offers resources in Spanish. He recently started a group for young adults with MS and helps raise funds via two major MS Society events: MS Walk and MS Bike.
MS, he said, is particularly hard for young people, who often are just embarking on higher education or careers when they are diagnosed. He believes strongly in doing whatever it takes to find a cure; for now, that means continuing his work with the RGC and possibly being part of a scientific study on MS. In the future, Jorge said, he would love to be a senator, “to have a direct impact, help people battling this disease—and everyone else. We have a system to help each other. It’s why we have politics and why we pay taxes.”
The disease has taught him a few things, namely the readiness to do things now instead of putting them off. “I’m not holding back or waiting to do certain things,” he said. “For example, I just ran a marathon, and that shouldn’t be possible for people with MS. It could have caused a relapse. I trained for four months to be able to handle it.”
Another thing he’s learned—and not just from MS, but also from being a “proud letterman alumnus”—is the value of perseverance. “If I’m in a wheelchair someday, I’ll do wheelchair basketball,” Jorge said. “Before [MS], I’d always held back a bit, thinking I had the time to do things later.
As of October 2012, Jorge volunteers for the RGC 30 hours a week and plans to begin working soon for the New Mexico state legislature while continuing his volunteerism.
“I’m not letting this disease stop me,” Jorge said. “There are some challenges I have to adapt to now; that’s what life is about.”
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