Back in the world: Bill Brayer forms new MS support group
Bill Brayer is 83 now. He’s had multiple sclerosis for more than 60 years. He’s successfully beat back cancer. He’s had a quadruple bypass to fix his heart.
He’s survived all that, and now lives in a beautiful condo in downtown Edmonds with his wife, Carol.
So why does Brayer, who in 2013 was named the Kiwanis Citizen of the Year, want to start a support group for those with MS? There are altruistic reasons – he’s been helping people for years – but there’s something else: He’s not ready to check out. He needs to belong and be part of the world.
“Well, I’m bored and depressed,” he said from his home office, computer on and printer humming. “I’ve worked my whole life (he even once delivered the Edmonds Beacon). My wife was hoping I would find something to do. I did go down and join the Senior Center. Ferrell (Fleming, the director) asked me if I would be his right-hand man. But then I got cancer and had to drop out of that.”
On Monday, Brayer was working his contacts and printing fliers announcing the formation of a new MS support group, which will meet for the first time at 1 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27, at Edmonds United Methodist Church, 828 Caspers St. It will meet the fourth Thursday of subsequent months, except for November.
Running an MS support group – for those with MS, family members, caregivers and friends – is something Brayer is intimately familiar with.
For 23 years, from 1989 to 2012, Brayer and his wife were co-facilitators of the Sno-King MS support group, also publishing a monthly newsletter. Brayer stepped down to take care of his health. The group continued to meet for a few years, under the guidance of Debra McLaughlin, but disbanded in June 2016.
Brayer’s new group, the MS Sno-Flakes, is officially replacing the Sno-King group. Brayer gave his group its distinctive name because, as he says, just as there are no two snowflakes alike, there are no two people with MS who are exactly alike.
MS Sno-Flakes will be an independent support group, unlike Sno-King MS, which was affiliated with MS Helping Hands, a nonprofit business Brayer started in 1999 and now is run by Richard Marin (who replaced former Chamber of Commerce executive director Jan Vance.)
MS Sno-Flakes will be run as an affiliate of the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
When Brayer retired at 65 and sold his reprographics business in Renton, he focused full time on the Sno-King support group. He also volunteered with a support group in Richmond Beach Rehab, which is where the idea was hatched for what would ultimately become MS Helping Hands/Donor Closet.
When one of the women who Brayer helped died, her parents asked him if he would help them dispose of the accumulated gear, including a hospital bed, wheelchair and other special equipment.
Brayer obliged, piling the equipment into the garage of his home at the time, near Firdale Village. He fired off an email asking if anyone wanted to stop by to pick up free items.
“My email address book lit up like a neon sign,” he said. “When I was giving it all away, others saw or heard about what I was doing. My garage kept getting fuller.”
Brayer contacted a storage site that agreed to give him a storage unit free for three months. But after Brayer soon had six units filled with donated items, the owner – understandably – told him he needed to start paying.
So Brayer moved his donations to another storage unit, where he quickly ran into the same problem – not enough space.
He found the answer, and 7,500 square feet, on Howell Street in Edmonds, one block west of Fifth Avenue South, where IGA currently is in business. He called it Donor Closet since he and his group of volunteers took donations but would ask for minimum suggested donations for items that, in many cases, were new and still in boxes.
Brayer is no longer involved with Donor Closet, which recently opened a second location, in Tacoma.
Although Brayer suspects he’s had MS symptoms for more than 60 years, it wasn’t until 1987 that three doctors officially confirmed his diagnosis.
He was discharged from the Navy in 1954, after only two years, for what he was told was an unknown neurological disorder.
It was an accident that led to Brayer’s diagnosis.
“One day, I was getting ready to go to church, getting dressed, and I went to brush my hair,” he said. “I brought the brush up and shoved it up into my eye. It was horrible.”
Doctors told him he’d damaged his retina and that he should see a neurologist, which eventually led to the MS confirmation. No one in his family had ever been given that diagnosis, he said.
No one knows what causes MS, an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Everyone is affected differently.
“Bill’s been extremely lucky,” Carol said. “I call him the Energizer Bunny. His MS symptoms come and go. A common cold can cause the symptoms. I know that if he suddenly can’t walk, he’s getting sick.”
Carol said her husband’s right side is weaker than his left, which forced him to learn how to live left-handed.
“He only stopped driving two years ago. A year ago, I was taking him everywhere in a transport chair. But in the last six months, for whatever reason, he’s getting stronger again. I haven’t taken the transport chair out of the trunk for six months. We’ve known people that 20 years ago were in better shape than him, and now they’re gone. ”
With all that said, you can be sure Brayer will be putting his all into his new support group. He’s back in the world.
For additional information about the the MS Sno-Flakes support group, contact Bill Brayer at 206-718-0894 or firstname.lastname@example.org.