Q&A with MS patient advocate Denise Boucher

| Written by rbruni
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Denise Boucher is a vibrant, gregarious, and engaging individual, with an easy smile and a quick wit. When you meet her the for the first time and feel her infectious energy, it’s hard to imagine that she has endured a nearly 20-year long battle with multiple sclerosis (MS) that has taken most of her sight and her ability walk.

Despite these challenges, Denise does not let MS stop her from living life on her terms. She is an active, passionate MS advocate who spends her time educating others about the degenerative disease and supporting fellow survivors.

On March 24, Denise visited the Institute’s La Jolla campus for the very first time as part of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s (NMSS) MS Awareness Month to learn more about how our researchers are making advancements in the fight against this immune-mediated disease.

We sat down with her after her visit to hear some highlights from her time at the Institute.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself and how you became a research advocate for MS?

A: When I was 25, I moved to Arizona to continue my dream career in advertising. Suddenly, strange things began to happen, including numbness on one side of my body and later blindness in one eye.

My eyesight, which I’d never had any problems with before, was becoming an increasing issue. I later learned that this is a common early symptom for MS patients. It progressed very quickly from there and it wasn’t long before my doctors diagnosed me with MS. Shortly after, I lost most of the vision in my other eye.

It’s hard to explain what a diagnosis like that means to you when you’re 25, but I tried to keep moving forward with my life and not let it derail my career, or impact my ability stay positive and enjoy my life. After a while, my symptoms progressed and I knew that things had to change. I managed to continue working in advertising for many years, but after 21 years I ended my career to focus on my health.

It was a very difficult time, to say the least, but I made the best of it. I became an advocate along the way to help others in a similar situation and share what I’ve learned with them. It’s my way to give back, stay active, positive, and move forward with my life.

Q. When you hear about research happening at Sanford-Burnham, what does it mean to you?

A. When I was first invited to join the MS tour I was so, so excited. This was really an opportunity of a lifetime, in my opinion, to visit with scientists and learn more about what they do and the impact that they could have on potential treatments.

Just being at Sanford-Burnham and seeing what’s going on lets me know that the future will be easier for others. Seeing the dedicated scientists at Sanford-Burnham and hearing their passion for curing this disease, fills me with hope. And that means a lot.

Q. What were some of your takeaways from your visit to the Institute?

This visit meant more than I ever expected. Truthfully. You read and hear about research, but you rarely have the opportunity connect what scientists are doing to the potential end result. When you’re here on campus, talking to the scientists—who are so passionate about their work—it becomes much clearer how their research is directly correlated to future medicines.

I was also blown away by how collaborative the Institute is. I had no idea how many different departments work together with so many different specialties in order to make the discoveries that they do. The whole visit was incredibly enlightening.

Q. Why do you support early-stage research, like Dr. Ranscht’s? Dr. Ranscht is an incredible woman and her passion for curing MS is palpable. She cares and is dedicating her life to finding innovative new approaches to tackling this disease. How could I not support that?

Without people and research like hers, the next big discovery won’t be found and next-generation medicines can’t be developed. Early-stage research is imperative to our future.


If you would like to arrange a visit to the Institute to learn more about our research, please contact Sandy Hanna at Shanna@sanfordburnham.org, or call 858-795-5056.

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