Mae Nacol couldn't really be blamed for being
a little ignorant about rock music.
Like many other adults in her particular
strata of success, the high-powered Houston trial lawyer kept the car stereo
in her Porsche tuned to a soothing, classical music station most of the
All that was before June 1984.
Now giant portraits of British rock greats
like Ron Wood, Jeff Beck, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman and Jimmy Page line the
walls of her ninth-floor office in the Bank of Texas Building downtown.
To Nacol, these rock stars are now kindred
spirits in her fight against multiple sclerosis.
Plastering her office with their portraits is
the least she can do to pay tribute.
This unlikely link between dignified attorney
and the pride of the ``British invasion'' occurred last summer when Nacol
received a call from a physician friend, Dr. Phillip James of the University
of Dundee, Scotland.
Since her own MS diagnosis in 1978, Nacol had
become a walking encyclopedia about this progressively degenerative
condition that attacks the central nervous system with a variety of symptoms
ranging from blindness to bowel and bladder incontinence to paralysis.
No cause is known for the condition, nor is
there a cure.
``They tell you to sit back and wait, but I
wasn't willing to,'' she says.
First she trailblazed by founding the HBO
Medical Center of Houston, which brought hyperbaric oxygen to Houston in
1981. With HBO, a patient sits in a pressurized tank while pure oxygen is
forced in and out, speeding oxygen to the diseased tissue. Nacol, who was
bedridden before the treatments, got a new lease on life as a result.
Once in remission, Nacol began using her best
investigative skills to learn as much about the condition as any doctor. She
haunted the library at the Texas Medical Center. ``I ended up building a
small library of my own,'' she says.
In the process, she ran across the name of
James and pursued him in order to learn more about MS research in Europe.
Then last summer came the call from James
that would give Nacol an even more global cause.
James asked her if she would help British
rock star Ronnie Lane, who had recently been sidelined in his career by her
old enemy, MS. Lane was on his way to Houston for treatment at the HBO
Medical Center at 5220 Travis.
``He was a basket case,'' recalls Nacol. ``He
was as bad as I was in 1979. He was blind in one eye, had little vision in
the other one and couldn't walk. We got him in for emergency treatment
Only then did she learn that the frail
patient recently had held an all-star benefit tour in the United States to
raise $3 million for multiple sclerosis research. He was joined by his rock
musician pals such as Wood, Watts, Page, Beck, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton,
Ian McLagan, Jan Hammer and Simon Phillips, who virtually ``came out of the
woodwork'' when they heard of the need.
This followed a September 1983 all-star
benefit concert in London's Royal Albert Hall to benefit the Action for
Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ARMS) of England.
During his weeks at the Houston HBO center,
Lane took notice of what Nacol and her sister Barbara, then executive
director, were doing to help people.
Back on his feet after 17 days of HBO, Lane
told Nacol he wanted to give $1 million from the 1983 concert to start an
ARMS of America, with Houston as its headquarters. He wanted Nacol to direct
the nationwide, non-profit group.
``He said that if the cause and cure for MS
was going to be found anywhere, it would be in America because the finest
minds and the best research were here,'' he says.
Instead of being thrilled at Lane's offer,
Nacol at first wanted to turn and run. With her health stabilized due to HBO
treatments, her legal practice had flourished. Recently, she had trimmed her
work week back to three or four days. A single parent, she at last was able
to spend more time with her two teen-agers and at her new farm near Houston
where she bred Tennessee walking horses.
``I had worked all my life,'' says Nacol, a
member of Houston's Nacol jewelry family. ``I was selling diamonds by the
time I was 5 years old.
``I was at last to the point where I could
devote more time to my children and my hobbies. He was asking me to take on
an important task and give up the freedom I had worked so hard for.''
However, Lane summoned her to England, where
she met with ARMS personnel and Glyn Johns, who produced the celebrated 1983
She saw the family counseling, demographic
surveys, diet counseling and other services that ARMS was providing
routinely to MS victims in Great Britain.
Ultimately, she was convinced.
``What they had done in England was like my
dream come true,'' she says.
When the start-up money was presented to city
officials here last December, Lane issued the challenge: ``The Brits started
USA-ARMS, and I would expect the American musicians to keep it going.''
In keeping with that challenge, ARMS will
bring the Elvis Presley Traveling Museum to Houston Thursday through Sept.
15. Visitors can see many personal effects of the late ``king of rock and
roll,'' including his Cobra racing car. The $1 per person contribution will
go toward ARMS research.
Nacol says ARMS of America differs from the
National Multiple Sclerosis Society in that only persons who are MS
sufferers, relatives or extremely close friends may be members.
``Only those who are affected by the disease
truly understand the seriousness of the problems that we face,'' she says.
Since January, Nacol has been getting the
word out about ARMS of America's nationwide toll-free hot line
(1-800-USA-ARMS). Trained volunteers are on hand to answer questions from MS
victims around the country. Many times those calls are taken by Nacol, who
runs ARMS in a suite down the hall from her law office, or even by Lane, who
now lives here to be near the HBO and other therapies.
``If you don't understand the disease, you'll
never be able to control it. It will control your life until you understand
it,'' says Nacol.
Nacol says she's convinced that MS is still
considered a rare disease because so few people are familiar with it. She
says MS numbers will go up as people begin to learn some of its warning
For example, women are often told they have
bladder incontinence because they have borne children, but it's also one of
the first symptoms of MS, says Nacol. People with blurred vision are told
it's because they're working too hard.
``If you've got any combination of bladder
incontinence, extreme fatigue, blurred vision, or a little numbness like
your foot is going to sleep, you need to get to your family doctor and get
People who phone ARMS-America are mailed a
crimson brochure bearing the ARMS slogan, ``We do more than just wait!''
Inside are leaflets with documented
Current MS treatments and their side effects.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a new and
painless tool for diagnosing and monitoring MS.
Newest findings on hyperbaric oxygen.
Originally looked on with skepticism in the medical world, HBO got a boost
in 1983 after New York University Medical School showed that a large group
of patients in a control study improved immediately after HBO treatment,
The importance of exercise and diet in MS
The effects of MS on sexuality.
Most importantly, someone is there to answer
the suicide calls - the people who are ready to ``blow their brains out,''
as Nacol was once.
People often complain of dark moods, short
tempers and frequent crying spells.
``If you have a swelling in the brain, you're
going to have irritability,'' says Nacol. ``Families need to understand
Most of the money is going toward research at
three places: Texas A&M University, the University of Texas Medical
School and the Oregon Health Science University.
The research is probing theories about MS
other than the usual ones: that MS is caused by a virus or by problems in
the body's immune system.
One alternative is the fat embolism theory,
which means that fat gets into a vein and goes into the brain, causing
leakage. The toxins in the blood destroy the tissue.
``I have no doubt that within the next five
years we will have the cause of MS,'' she says.
Nacol admits she's involved in ARMS for
``very selfish reasons.'' In probing her family history, she discovered five
cousins who have MS; a sixth was diagnosed this year. Her sister Barbara now
works with her at ARMS.
``I have two children,'' she says. ``I can't
afford to wait for the answers.''
Besides MS, Nacol is now also a walking
encyclopedia on rock music.
``I listen to it every day,'' she says.
Of the musicians she's grown to appreciate,
Nacol says: ``Their public and private image is so different. They're so
down to earth; they have very strong feelings about their families. They're
not the ravers that everyone thinks they are. People think they're into
drugs and things. But they're all businessmen.''
For example, of drummer Kenney Jones, she
says: ``He's the kind of guy you wouldn't mind your daughter going out