JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Walking across the stage at college graduation is a huge accomplishment for anyone, but it was especially meaningful for Johns Creek resident Daniel Schwartz.
When he was months away from finishing his diploma in 2014, Schwartz began to feel sluggish most of the day. At first he thought it was just a cold, until one morning he woke up and was unable to stand up straight or use his limbs.
Six weeks and six doctors later, Schwartz was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, or MG, at age 27.
“It was hard to find a diagnosis or a doctor saying it wasn’t just stress,” Schwartz said.
MG is a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease that affects about one in 50,000 people in the U.S., according to the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America. In other words, the body’s natural immune system wrongfully attacks the neurotransmitters that allow the brain to communicate with the voluntary muscles.
Someone with MG may want to walk across the room, but their brain is unable to control the muscles in their legs. MG can also cause drooping eyelids, blurred vision, muscle weakness, fatigue, slurred speech and limited facial expression.
“It’s not as simple as this, but I like to compare it to a cell phone battery,” Schwartz said. “When we’re fully rested, we’re as good as we can be. When your cell phone is fully charged, you can do whatever you want with it. When your battery is almost dead, you may notice your phone doesn’t work as well.”
Each case of MG is unique, affecting different muscle groups to different degrees for different lengths of time. This also means that there is no universal cure, and while there are many treatments than can make living with MG easier, finding the right treatment can take months of trial and error.
“Treatments do help, but finding the right treatment is an educated guess,” Schwartz said.
One common treatment, using donated plasma to strengthen the immune system, didn’t work for Schwartz, and some of the drugs he tried had side effects that were worse than the MG symptoms, he said.
But through finding the right doctor and months of physical therapy, Schwartz regained the ability to walk, to work and to live an approximation of a normal life. Through an online course, he was able to finish his degree and walk across the stage at graduation.
Now, Schwartz works as an inspirational speaker under the name “The Stress Destroyer.” Stress can make symptoms of MG worse, so Schwartz has learned strategies for keeping stress low. Even in Atlanta traffic, he joked.
Schwartz said anything is possible for people living with MG, from bodybuilding to distance running, so long as they find a good treatment plan, do things in moderation and are honest with themselves about their bodies’ limitations.
“If your body says ‘Stop, you idiot,’ you say ‘yes, sir,’” he said.
Schwartz also wants to raise awareness of MG, so that it is more commonly understood, akin to other autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, MS.
“Just listen [to people with MG],” he said. “If they say they need a rest day, let them have a rest day. If they’re pushing themselves, tell them to slow down.”
Each year there is a walk to raise awareness for MG and sponsor research. The 2019 Atlanta race was in March and Schwartz was the “MG Walk Hero” of the year.
For more information about MG,