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
``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
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
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
``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,
``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
``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."