Wellstone reveals ongoing MS battle

K.C. Howard

On a quiet Sunday morning on Ashland Avenue in St. Paul, Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., waited upstairs in his home.

When his living room had filled with cameras and reporters, he descended the staircase to tell Minnesota citizens what he had known for a month.

“What I would like to say is that I have multiple sclerosis and that I’m going to be fine,” he said.

But sitting between his doctor and wife, Wellstone confirmed his intentions to continue his campaign for a third term as U.S. senator.

“Nothing’s changed at all,” the senator said. “I’ll be able to conduct a grueling campaign that 10 people couldn’t conduct.”

A tight race is expected for the seat between Wellstone and former St. Paul mayor and Republican candidate Norm Coleman.

For the last 15 years, Wellstone has struggled with his right leg, where doctors said the disease is contained. But he always attributed the pain to an old wrestling injury.

Dr. J.D. Bartleson of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester said he suspects the pain was an indication of the disease’s development.

Bartleson, a specialist in neurology, will monitor Wellstone’s condition every 6 to 12 months but will prescribe no medication.

“There is no proven treatment for primary progressive multiple sclerosis,” Bartleson said. “It’s not a fatal condition at all.”

He said even if Wellstone’s condition continues to degenerate over the next six years of a possible third term, it will only affect motor skills in the senator’s right leg.

“He’s only mildly impaired at this point,” Bartleson said. “This will not mentally affect Sen. Wellstone.”

Virgil Mathiowetz, a multiple sclerosis researcher for the University’s occupational therapy program, said Wellstone’s case seems to be a mild form that should not affect his job performance.

Wellstone’s wife Sheila said she supports her husband’s future campaign 100 percent.

Recent polls show Wellstone and Coleman are close enough to kiss. Wellstone is favored by 45 percent in a sample of 1,027 likely Minnesota voters, with Coleman at 44 percent, according to a Star Tribune Minnesota poll conducted Feb. 2-6. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.

Wellstone’s challenger was out of the state Sunday, but Coleman’s campaign manager, Ben Whitney, said Coleman’s thoughts and prayers are with Wellstone and his family.

“The mayor wishes the senator well in his battle with MS,” Whitney said.

Regardless of the campaign trek ahead, Wellstone said, he is confident he can handle the road.

“I’m prayerfully thankful it’s had no effect on me in energy overall,” he said. “For me, no stress would be stress.”