Photo essay documents life with MS

Photographer Ted Goldman (left) with Fred Schwartz at Schwartz's home in Burlington. Goldman has chronicled his daily life in a photo essay.
Photographer Ted Goldman (left) with Fred Schwartz at Schwartz's home in Burlington. Goldman has chronicled his daily life in a photo essay. (MATTHEW HALL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 01, 2014

As the photo essay opens, a 44-year-old man with a shaved head lies shirtless on his back in bed.

The merciless morning light reveals two prescription drug containers on the night table, a medical alert tag around his neck, and a catheter tube snaking out from under the sheets.

The man is Fred Schwartz, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1994. His nearly deadweight legs and steadily weakening left arm render mundane tasks - such as getting up in the morning - a challenge.

"I have to push myself," says Schwartz, a friendly, soft-spoken fellow who grew up in Moorestown and lives in Burlington Township. "Sometimes I'm a little tired just from getting upright."

When the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's Philadelphia chapter asked whether he would allow volunteer photographer Ted Goldman to document his days to help educate the public about MS, Schwartz immediately agreed.

The result is "Living with MS" (tgoldmanphotography.com), an intimate, unsparing and uplifting sequence of three dozen photos that vividly illustrate one man's battle with a relentless adversary.

We see Schwartz struggle to put on his pants, to get into his wheelchair, to prepare a meal. We see him sitting in front of the TV watching golf, the game he loves and can no longer play.

Goldman's expressive images also provide views of Schwartz at the computer and driving his hand-controlled van to Mass at St. Peter's in Merchantville.

We see him grimace as he strains to take care of his everyday needs. But we see him smile, too.

"I wanted it to be something powerful," Schwartz says, sitting in his wheelchair in the family room of the spacious home he shares with a boarder.

"The power of a photo essay, of using it to tell a story, really appeals to me," Goldman, 67, of West Chester, says from across the room.

Goldman often volunteers to shoot pictures at MS Society events. That's how he got the idea to document the life of an individual patient.

"At these events there were lots of healthy-looking people, and maybe a couple of people in wheelchairs, but I didn't see people [with] symptoms," Goldman says. "I thought, 'I don't know what this terrible disease looks like, and if I don't know, lots of other people don't either.' "

That was among the reasons for the project, notes Kevin Moffitt, a vice president with the MS Society in Philadelphia, where Schwartz is a longtime volunteer.

Goldman shot the photographs during three sessions in July and August. Schwartz had the option to reject any image but accepted all of the photographer's final selections.

"Fred didn't flinch," Goldman says. "I would say, 'Is this all right?' and his answer was, 'This is how I live.' "

The cause of the disease is unknown, according to the MS Society. Symptoms and rates of progression vary as cells in the central nervous system are damaged and become dysfunctional. There is no cure.

Helen Solinski, 48, who describes herself as moderately impaired by MS, says the photos hit close to home.

"The pictures show the cold, hard truth of the progression," she says from Saratoga, Calif., where she is manager of donor relations at the Myelin Repair Foundation, which develops MS therapies.

"It's such a cruel disease," Solinski adds. "It's taken so much from Fred."

Goldman's photos "really do make you take a little bit of a deep breath," Moffitt says. "They show how much effort it takes when people want to stay independent."

The disease forced Schwartz to give up his career in health-care finance in 2002.

"I haven't walked unassisted in at least 12 years," he says. "I've not been able to stand on my own for at least a year now."

His words are matter-of-fact.

"I'm a guy sitting in a house in Burlington. I don't do a whole lot," he continues, describing the photo essay as "a chance to be part of something big."

The MS Society is sending the link to supporters of its City to Shore bike ride, which starts Sept. 27 in Philadelphia. He and Goldman have talked about mounting a gallery show.

Says Schwartz: "I hope the photos inspire some people."

They already have. And so has he.


kriordan@phillynews.com

856-779-3845 @inqkriordan

www.inquirer.com/blinq

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