'I know the change I can make': Peoria native devotes life to fighting back against multiple sclerosis
It’s officially Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Week, and one Peoria native knows all too well what it’s like to live with the disease.
Brian Gorsich was diagnosed with MS when he was 35. Though born and raised in West Peoria, he decided to move south to pursue a new job. At the time, he was 10 months into working for TouchTunes music corporation when he suddenly experienced difficulty walking back to his apartment after a company party. After a trip to the emergency room the next morning, the neurologist on call determined he had MS.
“I was diagnosed with Relapsing-Remitting MS…And so that's when I came back home to West Peoria and spent a couple of years in a hospital bed in my mother's basement and gradually building myself back from a hospital bed, to a wheelchair, to a walker. And now I use various assistive devices, from a cane to an electric scooter, just depending on the day,” Gorsich explained.
Gorsich described MS as an autoimmune disease that attacks the central nervous system. As of now, the reason for this attack is unknown.
“Nerves are everywhere in the body, so it can affect anything in the body,” said Gorsich.
He stressed these attacks don’t just impact a person’s mobility. Often, he said, people assume those with MS will ultimately end up in a wheelchair, which isn’t always the case.
“It's fatigue. It's anxiety. It's insomnia. It's pain. It's muscle spasms, could be blindness, could be bowel bladder problems…the list is very, very long,” said Gorsich. “And each MS patient is different. So, we're all going to be presenting symptoms differently. I have friends that run 10 miles a day with multiple sclerosis, and I have friends that are totally bedridden with multiple sclerosis.”
Gorsich said that in a sense, MS took his life and dreams away. After going to some deep, dark places where he saw no way out, he recalled the moment his perspective changed.
“It was an act of God that an F4 tornado destroyed our home in 2013…The next day, hundreds of volunteers went shoulder to shoulder picking up the pieces of our lives. Those hundreds became thousands. Over the next several months, each one showed me no matter what your ability is, it's your service to your fellow man that's important,” Gorsich said.
From this point on, Gorsich decided to devote his life to MS activism work. He began volunteering with the MS Society, the University of Illinois Department of Kinesiology, and the Bradley University Department of Physical Therapy to help with research.
He also became a support group team leader, starting MS patients leading change, which was voted support group of the year in 2018 by the National MS Society. That support group has now transformed into the Central Illinois MS Community Network, something that is a passion project for Gorsich.
“Currently, we have almost 300 people in our support group,” he said. "We're a very positive, uplifting group. A lot of these 'support groups' can become a pity party. And everybody has their chance to cry in their beer, but after your five minutes of crying in the beer, we're moving onto something positive.”
However, Gorsich didn’t stop at the support group. He’s also part of a network of more than 40,000 individuals driving legislation at the state and federal levels.
“Every year we go down to Springfield to state action days and share our stories with our legislators and ask them to support whatever bills the National MS Society is pushing at the time,” he said.
Gorsich also has served as a team captain for the annual Peoria Walk MS, is currently chair of the National Multiple Sclerosis Central Illinois Community Council, and was a key player in getting state, city, and county governments to provide a proclamation recognizing MS Awareness Week in Illinois, including the City of Washington, Pekin, and Peoria County.
“When people ask me why I'm doing what I'm doing now, it's because I know the change I can make,” said Gorsich. “I've lived it. I'm still living it. Someone gave me a new perspective on life, and I will spend the rest of my life fighting back against this vicious disease so in turn, somebody else will have a better quality of life.”
MS Awareness Week continues through March 18. The Peoria Public Library North Branch will host a presentation from 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday on living your best life with MS. A virtual MS activist rally is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 28 to help prepare for state action days that take place in May.
And, the annual Peoria Walk MS event will begin at noon April 23 at the Junction City shopping center. Register for the walk and find more information here. The event is free, though fundraising is encouraged.