He Believes in Miracles

Brett Weber has found that painting can help many people who, like him, suffer from MS. Here he checks out the work of his students during an art class.

Photo: Frank Wiese / The Morning Call, Inc.
Copyright 2005; used by permission

Brett Weber ’91 could hardly control Sophie.

The strain of picking up after her and making sure she stayed out of trouble was becoming too much. At one point he placed a sign outside his Allentown apartment: “Free German Shepherd Puppy to a Good Home.”

“I just didn’t think I’d be able to do it anymore,” he says.

Weber is no stranger to working against the odds.

Just before he earned his Ph.D. in neuroscience at Temple University in 1997, Weber was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease that attacks the brain and spinal cord, causing difficulty in walking, uncontrollable shaking, and diminished eyesight.

He found out while interning at a laboratory. During a study on reflexes, Weber’s leg shot up more than considered normal when a professor tapped his knee. Heightened reflexes are a warning sign for MS. Weber remembers the doctor telling him to go on with his life as if he wasn’t diagnosed. As difficult as it would seem to do that, he did.

“I was cautioned about what might happen,” he says, “that I should avoid physical and emotional stress. And I did. I wanted to continue.”

Weber went on with his studies at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and Hahnemann University in Philadelphia. He taught at Chatham College in Pittsburgh but didn’t tell college administrators that he was ill until it became obvious.

“By the end of the first year, I had a limp,” he says. Weber was forced to move back to Allentown about two years ago and readjust, reevaluate, and reconnect.

At Moravian, he had double-majored in biology and art. Even before the diagnosis of MS, Weber painted. He thought his painting could be a vehicle to heighten awareness of MS.

Weber held many shows in the Lehigh Valley and New York City, bringing attention to the disease. He also began to teach other people with MS at several Lehigh Valley hospitals. “It’s therapy,” he says. “It’s a way of working through, continuing to make beautiful things, continuing on.”

Weber has a variant of the disease called progressive relapsing MS, which is currently untreatable. Over the last two years, though, the MS has not progressed, and Weber is feeling pretty good.

Though he uses a wheelchair, he continues his physical therapy and enjoys swimming several times a week.
“When you surround yourself with positive influences, people, and activities, you’re going to succeed and feel good,” he says.

Then came Sophie.

Weber loved her and did his best, but “with me being in a wheelchair, sometimes she was too much to handle,” he says.

Then one day, a friend stopped by with a pile of dog-training books and told him Sophie loved him too much for Weber to get rid of her.

Sophie just turned 5, and the hard work of training has paid off.

“She just turned into a great dog,” he says. He has gotten permission from Cedar Crest College to take Sophie swimming with him in the Rodale Aquatic Center.

Weber continues to live in Allentown, work with art students similarly disabled, and travel to MS conferences across the country. He keeps a positively positive attitude.

“In order to receive a miracle, you have to believe in miracles,” he says. “I think Comenius would appreciate that.”

—George R. E. Wacker ’03