The disease that had taken our beloved Ngoc Lan's life, as we all know now, was called multiple sclerosis. For many of us, prior to Ngoc Lan's passing, we had probably never heard of this disease before. I, myself, had heard vaguely about the disease in the past when it had affected a few famous people, mainstream American celebrities such as Annette Funicello and Richard Pryor. But I really hadn't made much of an effort to learn about the disease, mostly because of the old cliché that it hadn't really hit close to home yet.
Many other people of Asian descent, such as myself, have also shared the same apathy that I had had about multiple sclerosis. I've learned that perhaps it is quite understandable why multiple sclerosis might not be much of a concern with people of either Asian or African descent, since the disease has been known to affect mostly victims belonging to the Caucasian race, especially those of Scandinavian ancestry. It seems like multiple sclerosis is more rampant among people from regions of the world that are far away from the equator. Since Vietnam is a country situated just slightly above the equator, there hasn't been many, if any, cases of multiple sclerosis documented in Vietnam since the initial discovery of the disease by French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot in 1868. The disease is not hereditary nor is it contagious. The fact that someone like Ngoc Lan, a Vietnamese, had come down with multiple sclerosis could mean that the disease can be caused by environmental factors and not necessarily because of one's ethnic origin. Think about it, if Ngoc Lan had spent her entire life living in Vietnam or in places of tropical, warmer climates, rather than having relocated to places like Minnesota and even here in Southern California, perhaps she would have never been stricken with multiple sclerosis. Of course, that's all based on a "maybe" or a "perhaps".
What causes multiple sclerosis remains unknown to this day. But what doctors do know about the disease is that it is a neurological disorder that is a result of an inflammatory infection of the brain which causes the one's own immune system to attack itself. There is no cure for the disease. However, the earlier the detection of multiple sclerosis and the sooner one starts to seek treatment for the disease, the greater the chances one has in possibly prolonging his or her life. Although the amount treatment that is now available for victims stricken with multiple sclerosis is rather limited, it can make a big difference the earlier a person is diagnosed. The symptoms range from anything such as fatigue or feeling unusually tired to having sudden bouts of pain or nausea without any reasonable cause. In Ngoc Lan's case, she wasn't properly diagnosed with having multiple sclerosis for several years and therefor, she did not receive any treatment until the disease had already taken over.
Ngoc Lan's untimely death is indeed a tragedy. The fact that the cause of her death was multiple sclerosis, a disease that rarely any other Vietnamese has ever been diagnosed with, given how she was so well known has helped raise awareness of the disease and that she did not die in vain. We now know that the disease can affect just about everyone, and that nobody is immune to it. For those of us that did love Ngoc Lan, after learning about multiple sclerosis and what can be done once diagnosed it's difficult for anyone of us not to wonder, just what if? For more information about this disease, contact the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America with the link below.
Multiple Sclerosis Association of America