Once a New York City tour guide, actor and CPR instructor, Walter Hershman now spends his days relearning how to walk steadily and speak without a slur as a Multiple Sclerosis patient. But Walter hasn't relinquished his most important job: being a father.
Less than two years ago, Walter Hershman was guiding a group of elementary school students on a tour through Central Park when he fell, and subsequently couldn't seem to get up and regain his balance. Shortly afterwards, he was diagnosed with a progressive form of Multiple Sclerosis.
At 40 years old, with a wife and one-year-old son, Walter was facing a life of hardship, a life that had to be relearned.
He and his young family left their beloved Astoria, Queens apartment behind and moved to Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, where his mother-in-law lived and could help care for baby Chad. But leaving Queens meant leaving behind the community of friends Walter had made, though that was just one of many new problems. There was also his inability to work, his need for several different doctors and various medication, and the pain that comes with trying to navigate a difficult new life.
While Walter does acknowledge that there is a frustrating learning curve when it comes to MS, he also knows anger and resentment won't help him learn any faster. There are good days and there are bad days, but Walter has found that focusing his energy on Chad brings more of the good out. Because his wife is the family's sole breadwinner, Walter spends a lot of time with his son, now 3.
Even though he may not be able to kick a soccer ball or fly a kite with Chad, the pair is as close as can be.
My goal is get a kite and fly a kite with him. But I can’t lift my head really quickly to fly a kite and that gets a little frustrating for me and I gotta figure that out.
MS is sort of, you have to relearn everything, and I’m in the process of relearning.
[Nat sound: “come on..”]
Simple things like buttoning buttons or belts and things like that, you have to learn how to do that.
[Nat sound: “I can’t do it.”]
[Nat sound: “How about we practice your monologue?”]
[Nat sound: monologue excerpt]
My balance is terrible. My speech patterns are terrible. My vision is horrible. I can’t read anymore. And that annoys me, especially living way out in Brooklyn in what I call Siberia. It gets kind of lonely out here because there’s really nobody but Chad that I can communicate with.
My son – this is all he knows so he doesn’t have anything to compare it to. You know, when we leave he’ll grab my cane. He knows not to ask me to carry him down steps. And I think in the back of his mind that he knows there’s something just not right. You know, things are a little more difficult for daddy.
[Nat sound: “let me help you!”]
There are things I want to do that I know I cant anymore. So yeah I’m angry, and yeah I’m pissed.
Everything seemed to have been taken away from me and I’m slowly trying to get that all back. There really there isn’t a cure to this. I’m going to have it forever but I am not terminal. This is not going to kill me.
Behind the Scenes
Multiple Sclerosis is not an easy disease to portray visually, which is why I was eager to create this video. I hope that I have done Walter's story justice and put a face to a disease that is not discussed enough.