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Farewell to ARMS partnership/Mae Nacol
by Kay Moore
Houston Chronicle; Houston, Tex.; Mar 25, 1986

Mae Nacol once wanted to be a doctor, but after she was involved in an auto accident in college, physicians dissuaded her from such a strenuous career.

She went on to become a trial lawyer - certainly no easy job. But in later life, Nacol, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, said she found herself living out that earlier dream in an unplanned way - by trying to help multiple sclerosis patients.

Now, a Houston MS foundation she once directed is under state investigation for alleged mismanagement and misappropriation of funds. Rock musician Ronnie Lane and his physician requested the investigation, claiming that Nacol had mismanaged funds that Lane donated to start Action into Research for Multiple Sclerosis (ARMS) of America Ltd. here in 1984.

Nacol, 41, says this development in the history of the foundation is a huge disappointment to her.

``My dedication to serving the needs of the MS patients in the United States has taken precedence over my own personal goals,'' Nacol said. ``It's just really sad to me that no one seems to care about that but me.''

Despite the organization's apparently controversial 14-month history, Nacol said she feels that ARMS has been successful.

``ARMS has done a tremendous amount for the MS patient. The patients whose lives it has helped are numerous.''

There were many days during the foundation's earlier months when the ARMS nationwide, toll-free hot line rang continuously with questions from MS sufferers, she said. The phones were answered by trained personnel - including herself.

Although records furnished to the state attorney general's office list less than $70,000 spent on traditional research (with checks for $45,000 and $20,920 written to Texas A&M University), Nacol said research in a university setting was only one part of ARMS' goals.

When people reached the ARMS office by calling the toll-free number, Nacol said they were interviewed to try to find some common thread that underlies the condition.

``Part of it (the overall expenditure) may look like administrative costs, but in reality you are dealing with personnel that are dealing with research, counseling and the census that we were doing,'' she said.

In a 1981 interview, Nacol described how she saw herself slip into an invalid state in 1978. (Multiple sclerosis is a progressively degenerative condition that attacks the central nervous system. Symptoms range from blindness to bladder incontinence to paralysis. No cause or cure is known for the condition, although in a September interview Nacol had said she believed research funded by her group would within five years yield a cause.)

A single parent, Nacol said her two children once took turns feeding her. Heavy reliance on others had never been part of her lifestyle. She said that in her younger days she refused financial help (she is a member of the Nacol jewelry family) and worked her way through Rice University. She earned a law degree by serving three years' apprenticeship instead of going to law school.

A longtime family friend, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Frank McGehee Sr., helped her locate a Florida internist who gave hyperbaric oxygen treatments. She sat in a pressurized tank while pure oxygen was forced in and out, speeding oxygen to the diseased tissue. When she regained bladder control after the 13th visit, Nacol said she became a believer in HBO, which many experts still consider controversial in MS management.

Nacol returned to her hometown and in 1981 set up the HBO Medical Center of Houston. She believed that by continuing to take the treatments, she was able to keep her MS in remission most of the time.

In the process of her MS research, she met Scottish physician Dr. Phillip James, who was involved with MS research in Europe. Then in the summer of 1984 came the call from James that would link her with Lane, who also has MS. At James' recommendation, Lane came to the HBO center here.

After Lane's condition improved, he told Nacol he wanted to give $1 million from a 1983 U.S. benefit concert by British rockers to establish an ARMS of America (modeled after ARMS-UK in Britain). He wanted Houston to be its headquarters and Nacol its director.

Nacol, who says her legal practice had flourished since her health improved, resisted at first.

``I was at last to the point where I would devote more time to my children and my hobbies,'' she said in the September interview. She recently had bought a farm near Houston where she bred Tennessee walking horses.

But Lane convinced her otherwise. Nacol said she began work in September 1984 so she could be ready for a December opening. She said it is some of these initial expenses that now seem to be in question.

``I considered ARMS my life's work. I didn't need the headache and the stress and struggle of starting over, but (I did) because there was a real need.''

Nacol said she maintained her law office down the hall from the ARMS headquarters in the BancTexas Building. ``I was allowed to handle any legal problems that I chose to handle as long as it didn't interfere with ARMS,'' she said.

It is hard for her to pinpoint exactly when the relationship with Lane and others in the ARMS organization went sour, she said.

``We just disagreed in terms of personnel and various things like that, on tasks and jobs and what everyone's responsibilities were and how they were being done.

``Maybe if I made any mistake at all, it was trying to push everyone too hard. ARMS was the most important thing to me, and I demanded the same kind of zeal from everyone that I gave it.''

She said Lane ``suffers from a malady among rock stars. He has temper tantrums when he doesn't get his way.''

A statement furnished to the attorney general's office shows that ARMS paid Nacol at least $206,202 for legal fees, salary and reimbursements from November 1984 through October 1985. She says she resigned in November.

Nacol said some of her duties involved legal work for Lane on his immigration status, obtaining liability releases when ARMS did fund-raising events, confirming statements written in patient brochures and dealing with insurance companies when patients called in with problems.

``I had to be available 24 hours a day for the organization,'' she said. ``The legal work was mammoth.'' She said she did not consider excessive the $80,000 annual salary and the $90,000 legal retainer she received.

``I have given almost two years of my life to this thing,'' she said. ``I have seen it torn down by people concerned not with ARMS or MS patients but concerned with their own selfish interests."

 


 


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