Kennedy: Multiple sclerosis, the great time thief, held at bay by 95-year-old

Louise Miller, 95, and her daughter, Susan English, at Manor House Assisted Living and Memory Care on Mountain Creek Road. (Photo by Mark Kennedy)
photo Mark Kennedy

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Multiple sclerosis is an insidious companion.

Sometimes, it ducks into the shadows. Other times, it jumps out with menace. Always, it tests a person's character.

Chattanooga's Louise Miller, who turned 95 years old on Nov. 12, was featured in a Chattanooga News-Free Press article way back in 1979 after being named the area's "MS Mother of the Year."

If you are counting, that was 37 years ago.

Miller still has a framed copy of the newspaper article on her wall. It was a big, six-column story. She was pictured with her now-deceased husband, Austin, who owned Scenic Land Printing and Sales Co.

She was lauded in print as a mother of four and energetic volunteer for the MS Society, an avid gardener and member of the Red Bank Presbyterian Church.

The subtext of that article was the belief at the time that MS sufferers were on the clock, that their lives would almost certainly be cut short by the disease.

Multiple sclerosis is a condition of the central nervous system. Women are two to three times more likely than men to develop MS, which affects about 2.3 million people worldwide. It can cause fatigue, vision problems, numbness and mood changes, among other symptoms.

Today, Louise Miller lives at the Manorhouse Assisted Living and Memory Care facility on Mountain Creek Road under the care of a watchful staff. Her daughter, Susan English, lives in Texas and monitors her mother on an internet-connected camera.

At the time she was diagnosed decades ago, Miller was a vibrant middle-ager.

"At the time, it took us by surprise," remembers her daughter. "We thought it was a death knell. Back then, there were no drugs and no cure."

Until her early 80s, Miller battled MS by resisting a wheelchair. She used canes to walk until her balance became so unsteady that she could no longer get around safely.

Yet, here she is at 95, an inspiration for middle-age people today facing MS. With advancements in medicines and good medical care "people with MS may live an average of about seven years less than the general population," according to the national MS Society.

Like a lot of older folks, Miller's long-term memory seems more fluent than her short-term memory.

"I've come a long way from the tobacco fields," she announced on the day I visited. "I hoed tobacco and cotton and everything else. It was a good life. I worked in the sunshine."

About three years ago, Miller's condition became grave and doctors feared the worst. In fact, they began to use the words that are often a prelude to death.

"They said, 'Your mother has lived a good, long life,'" remembers her daughter.

At that point, English abruptly turned to her mom and asked: "Mom, do you want to live to be 100?"

"Well, of course I do," she replied.

With that, English invited the assembled doctors to get onboard with her mother's wishes, or the family would find a new team of physicians.

To see Miller motor around Manorhouse these days in her electric wheelchair and interact with friends and staff is to know the family made the right decision.

"She is very strong-willed," English says. "She doesn't think she is 95. She wonders why she is here with all these 'old people.'"

MS, the great time thief, has been held at bay.

Of such blessings is Thanksgiving made.

Contact Mark Kennedy at or 423-757-6645.