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University Athletic Trainer Steps Out In Fight Of A Lifetime
By Karen E. Butler, Vice President of Communications
FAIRFIELD, Conn. -- Life was full speed ahead for Leo Katsetos. His youth had revolved around athletics and working at his parents’ restaurant, located on Chincoteague Island just off the coast of Virginia. Given his passion for sports, it wasn’t surprising to anyone when Katsetos went on to earn an undergraduate degree in exercise science, then a graduate degree in athletic training. Outgoing and full of charisma, Katsetos seemed to have it all: his health, a career in a field he loved and a supportive, close-knit family.
"Our parents, both of whom immigrated to the U.S. in the early ‘70s from Greece, instilled in us a strong work ethic," remembers Katsetos. "I have two brothers and a sister. We grew up working in my parents’ restaurant. If we weren’t in school or playing sports, we were at the restaurant. We worked hard and played hard."
Katsetos’ relationship with his younger sister, Despi, was particularly close. They shared a mutual appreciation for sports and outdoor activities.
"I was an All-American cheerleader and cheered in an Orange Bowl game one year," says Despi, who admits that both were capable of crafty, sibling high jinks when younger. "I enlisted Leo as my chaperone. Not only did he help put sponge rollers in my hair, which obviously was going above and beyond, he also proudly pointed me out to anyone who would take notice just as squad mothers attending pointed out their daughters. It was definitely a bonding experience and served to strengthen our relationship."
In 2001 Katsetos accepted a position as associate head athletic trainer at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn. His career seemed to be on the fast track to success. However, in 2003 Katsetos began experiencing unexplained, strange sensations in his legs and feet. Since there was no pain, he tried to dismiss the peculiar symptoms. As they persisted, he began to self-diagnose perhaps the symptoms were the result of a herniated disk.
"I had numbness and tingling in my lower extremity," says Katsetos. "I was convinced I had a herniated disk and was angry. Everything in my life was moving ahead at a nice clip. I didn’t have the time or the patience to deal with nagging health issues. I didn’t want anything to slow me down."
However, as the numbness worsened there was no denying something was wrong. Eventually, Katsetos was forced to make an appointment with a physician.
From an orthopeadic perspective, results from a MRI of his spine checked out normal. To be on the safe side, however, Katsetos’ doctor referred him a neurologist. The neurologist told Katsetos there was a possibility he might have multiple sclerosis (MS). He would need to undergo an MRI of his brain to confirm the diagnosis.
More than 6,000 Connecticut residents, like Katsetos, have multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease affecting the central nervous system. Multiple sclerosis is generally diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50. Symptoms can range from numbness and tingling in the limbs, difficulties with speech and vision and, in severe cases, complete paralysis. There is no cure for multiple sclerosis.
Katsetos, now 31, was at first hesitant to share news of his diagnosis with family or friends.
"I was still trying to learn more about the disease myself," says Katsetos. "Once I became more comfortable with having MS, it was time to make a difference. I knew there were many others who have it worse than me, and I wanted to reach out."
Although momentarily stunned, family and friends rallied to Katsetos’s side as they learned of his diagnosis.
"I was in shock at first," says Despi. "I knew very little about MS so I was also frightened. It took some time to fully process Leo’s diagnosis and realize what actually might lie ahead for him. I immediately began researching the disease. Educating myself on MS and its effects provides me with valuable insight. This enables me to better support Leo when he needs me most."
After sharing his diagnosis with family, Katsetos told colleagues and students at Sacred Heart University. Staff and students instantly banded together to show support.
"Leo does not hide his condition but takes advantage of every opportunity to educate those around him on the effects of MS," says Julie Alexander, head athletic trainer at Sacred Heart University. "I admire Leo’s innate ability to lead and motivate others. His voice carries his message without the need for volume. He has a wonderful sense of humor and an upbeat approach to life, and people are just naturally drawn to him."
In 2005 university students and staff formed a team, Sacred Hearts for Hope, stepping out each year to raise funds as part of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s annual Travelers Walk MS event.
"Last year our team participated with more than 300 walkers," says Katsetos. "The team raised almost $29,000. I can’t express in words just how grateful I am for the support of my family, friends and the Sacred Heart community. We are raising awareness and funds to help find better treatments and, ultimately, a cure for this disease."
Since 2005 the team has raised more than $90,000. Katsetos is also a member of the Walk MS committee helping to coordinate the 2008 Travelers Walk MS at the Norwalk event site. He also works with the Connecticut Chapter, helping to raise awareness and encouraging others across the state to join the movement to find a cure.
The Connecticut Chapter will host the Travelers Walk MS Sunday, May 4, in Norwalk at Calf Pasture Beach and at 10 other sites across the state, including:
In 2007 the walk event raised more than $1.1 million. The chapter hopes to raise more than $1.5 million this year. Funds raised through events such as the Travelers Walk MS ensure ongoing scientific research to find a cure and provide for the continuation of vital programs and services offered by the chapter to Connecticut residents living with multiple sclerosis.
Katsetos has remitting-relapsing MS. His symptoms are unpredictable and can flare up without warning. The symptoms usually subside with treatment.
Katsetos does not let MS stop him from living life to the fullest. He has made healthy living his top priority. He avoids unhealthy foods, exercises regularly and makes sure he gets plenty of rest crucial in preventing a relapse.
"As an athletic trainer I know all too well that movement is universal and essential," says Katsetos. "Movement is all around us and, whether physical or mental, we are all a part of it. Our bodies are in constant motion. People, like me, with MS know something most others don’t understand: moving is not a guarantee. Multiple sclerosis can stop us from moving. The National MS Society and those partnering with the society make sure it doesn’t. Events such as the walk make sure science moves us forward in finding better treatments and even a cure."
The 2008 Travelers Walk MS will take place Sunday, May 4. Check-in begins at 8 a.m., and the walk event will begin at 9 a.m. Lunch is provided compliments of Subway and Coca-Cola. Acorda and Serono have stepped up as this year’s platinum sponsors.
Travelers Walk MS community partners include WTNH News Channel 8/My TV 9, 96.5 TIC, NextMedia, 97.7 WCTY and Norwalk’s classic rock station 95.9 The Fox. To learn more about the 2008 Travelers Walk MS or to register, please visit http://www.ctfightsms.org/. Learn more about multiple sclerosis, its effects, and programs and services offered by the chapter to those living with MS by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting http://www.ctfightsms.org/.
CUTLINE 010: Sacred Heat University athletic trainer Leo Katsetos works on rehabilitating the knee of 20-year-old Kim Dulude who injured it while cheering for a university basketball game. Years of studying and training have taught Katsetos about the power of preventive medicine and healthy living. Now living with the unpredictable effects of multiple sclerosis (MS), Katsetos shares from personal experience methods for avoiding injury and maintaining good health.
CUTLINE 018: The day before the 2008 Northeast Conference Championship game, Leo Kasetos, athletic trainer for Sacred Hearth University men’s basketball team, wraps the hand of power forward Eugene Pettway.