I have the heart and soul of a much younger, and considerably wilder, rock and roller. My name is Tim Surkovich and once I was invincible. Like Superman before kryptonite. How I discovered I’m not was the second most harrowing thing I've lived through.
On one level I am exactly like I look - a former technology teacher in small-town Pennsylvania. Some say I look like a clone of Bill Gates. From the outside, I look fine, which I am not, not exactly. If you judged me just on what you see on the outside, you wouldn't know me at all.
Let me explain: When I was younger and invincible - I was on the football team, was a drummer, and drove a souped-up car that played metal music so loud you could hear me a block away. After college I figured I'd live the perfect life and got everything I wanted: a great job, a beautiful wife, and an unblemished future.
Little did I know there were two beasts inside me. The first snuck up with no warning: Imagine what it would be like to wake one morning in your twenties and your whole left side was numb. It happened to me. I chalked it up to sleeping wrong - I was invincible. Problems happen to other people. Wrong. I kept rubbing my arm and leg to get the circulation going, but stayed numb the whole morning. Then it got really scary. I temporarily lost a lot of my vision and couldn’t feel anything in my legs. I lost all feeling in my fingertips. The doctors diagnosed Multiple Sclerosis and told me there was no cure.
Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. The progress, severity, and specific symptoms of MS are unpredictable. Whenever I go to sleep, I never know whether I will wake up sound, or suffering.
It was still so new, so shocking that I couldn't accept I had MS even as parts of my central nervous system completely shut down. I was telling myself, I'm fine. Nothing has changed. But everything had changed. How could I have a normal life? I wanted a family, but should I have children? Would they get MS too? Would I live long enough to raise them? My wife and I decided to try, and were rewarded with twin sons. I started to rock and roll again on the inside. I could handle the beast!
Bigger family meant a better job, and I found one – becoming the first technology coordinator in the Spring Cove School District. Working 60 to 70 hours a week. I hit my limits quickly, and had lots of numbness in my extremities, tight bands around my gut, phantom pain in my right shoulder and arm. I had a terrifying moment when I lost sight in my right eye while driving home from work. The job was killing me but I needed to work to support my family. The only thing the doctors could give me was steroids. I'll never forget that first dose – suddenly I had tons of energy and FELT GREAT! I had tons of energy, could go full-tilt all the time... working, working, working. I could support my family! I was invincible. Then the doctors tried to wean me off the steroids. I couldn't handle it. Back came the MS beast. With a friend.
THE SECOND BEAST
One minute I was happy and the next minute I started screaming at my wife and kids. I could watch myself acting like a maniac, like I was seeing it on TV, and would cry about it while I attacked, but I couldn't control it. My kids were upset. And my wife had had enough. When she promised to marry me “for better or for worse”, I'm sure she couldn't have imagined just how bad “worse” could be. Part of me honestly couldn’t blame her for divorcing me. But I was devastated, and lost. I couldn't give up the one medicine which could get me through the day. I couldn't take the medicine because it was ruining my life. What was left that I had not yet destroyed? There were two reasons I got through it: my children. For them I would walk through the fires of hell. Come to think of it, I just had. So I found the strength to be a better father even on the worst days.
Eventually, new medicines came on line and worked well enough that I didn't need to take the steroids as often, and I met some people who help people with MS. They helped me. They understood what I was going through - they had seen it before.
Then I met an amazing woman named Lisa. We had grown up in the same town, but went to different schools. Suddenly, for the first time since my divorce, I fell in love. It felt like fate: We knew a lot of the same people and had even gotten married on the same day the first time around. But it also felt like it wasn't meant to be - my beasts had destroyed one marriage – could I live with losing love again? I thought back to my first marriage, and I couldn't control how I acted, and what I said. How could I risk hurting this wonderful woman? Yet how far I'd come! After I told Lisa about my MS, I’ll always remember her looking at me and saying “Is that all?” Is that all? She was perfect for me. After three years, we married, and lived happily ever after.
Well, not quite. As the years progressed, so did my MS. My limp got worse and I had trouble walking. I fell a lot and got hurt quite a few times. I tried using a cane, but hated having people look at me like I was an old man. I knew I had to do something. I decided on getting a service dog. All it took was a lot of fund raising, prayers and patience, but I was eventually matched with a two-year-old yellow lab named Painter. He went everywhere with me and I didn’t fall anymore. He was also my friend, my positive energy and when people saw us, they didn’t see a man with a limp; they saw a man with a really cute dog. He got all the fame and attention, I was just his roadie. Painter suddenly passed away in December of 2012. I once again felt as if I lost my whole world. Most people think of it as just losing a pet but trust me it was so much more, more than I can even explain. So after some soul searching, I decided that I couldn’t replace Painter with another service dog, I just couldn’t do that. I once again took up the fight! So today I wear a device called the Bioness L300 Foot Drop System to help me walk. Modern Science provides a Glimmer of Hope once again, along with a great deal of physical therapy and exercise sessions in the gym.
So here I am today. I have the heart and soul of a much younger, and considerably wilder, rock and roller. I've written lyrics about my struggle, and about what I discovered when I got beyond. My name is Tim Surkovich and once I was invincible. Now I'm just a man: a man with a perfect family, and two beasts. Once, long ago, I thought I had a perfect life. I had to learn to live with MS before I could appreciate how perfect my perfect life could be.
After writing the lyrics about my struggles and triumphs, I formed a foundation called the "The Project Diagnosis Foundation". This foundation came together after four long years of putting a conceptual rock opera together called "Project Diagnosis". A band called "Progmium"; was formed to write the music to the lyrics I had written. The members include: Randy Sciarrillo/Vocals, Luis Morales/Guitars & Keyboards, Rob Cunningham/Bass & Backing Vocals, and Dave Shaffer/Drums & Backing Vocals. The band worked hard to capture the moods and feelings I had gone through. They were moved by the story and each one of them had a connection to the disease by knowing of someone other than me and were determined to help. The CD turned out exactly how I wanted it to sound. It really tells the story but even more so it not only tells the story of someone struggling with MS but also anyone struggling with any chronic disease.
To learn more about the foundation, the band, my story, how to get the CD (which 75% of the proceeds go to the MS Society 1/2 for support services and 1/2 for research) you can visit www.theprojectdiagnosis.com or our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/projectdiagnosis. You can visit the band at www.progmium.com and follow us on Twitter at projdiag
We also just recently released our first music video from the CD called A Glimmer of Hope. For me personally the song is about when Betaseron was released on the market. The song goes further than that though by visiting the themes of anytime science develops new treatments and gives hope to millions. You can view the video by visiting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4IjQdgp6-4
So today I consider myself a lucky and blessed man, because of my diagnosis of MS. Yes I just said I feel lucky and blessed to have MS. MS changed my life in so many positive ways. It made me refocus. It made me appreciate the good things in my life. I've met so many people with such inspiring stories to tell. I lived a dream by working with some of the most talented musicians I've ever known and created an incredible CD. I've spoken to groups and motivated them to find their strength within and take up the fight and knock out MS once in for all!
Take up the Fight!