David Coerber

David Coerber

By Rich Breault
Antelope Valley Press
April 2004 – Lifestyle magazine

Multiple Sclerosis is no stranger to Dave Coerber of Lancaster.

It’s no friend either.

But the 58-year-old former civil engineer has come to terms with his life’s intruder.

MS began affecting his life in 1964, when Coerber was 19. It was diagnosed in 1967.

It was scary. I was 21, and all I knew of MS is what I saw on T.V., Coerber said. I had a picture in my mind of someone in a wheelchair and that really scared me.

Coerber knew earlier that something was going on with his body, but he didn’t have a clue what it was.

The first sign of MS was my double vision that came on all of a sudden, Coerber said.

An optometrist said that I just needed glasses. But the vision cleared up after a few months. A few months later I had some weakness in my legs. I was active. I like to play basketball. But my legs weakened even more.

Coerber graduated from California Polytechnic University at Pomona with a degree in civil engineering. He worked for the State Dept. of Transportation.

Because of the disease, he retired in 1975.

At age 29, he should have been looking forward to the prime of his life. Instead, he was looking at battling MS for the rest of his life.

I have always been optimistic, and it progressed so slowly at first, Coerber said. After the first year following the diagnosis there was little difference in my symptoms. I fooled myself into thinking it’s not going to get worse.The progressive disease made his body weaker. He started having bladder problems. By the mid-1980s he had problems with his upper body.

Up until then I was driving a car using hand controls, Coerber said. I was able to take care of myself. Once I lost use of my arms, I needed a caregiver.

His live-in caregiver, Genie Tucker has been with Coerber for the past five years. She takes good care of me, Coerber said.

Day in, day out Coerber is lifted in and out of his bed with the use of a hydraulic patient lift. A $15,000 chin-operated electric wheelchair is his only mode of transportation.

Coerber likes to work on a specially-outfitted voice-operated computer.

The year 2003 wasn’t a good one for Coerber he contracted pneumonia three times and the bouts left him even weaker and without much stamina.

He remains involved with his church, the First Assembly of God in Lancaster.

I am a member of the prayer chain at church. It’s something I can do to help others, said Coerber, who is also a peer counselor for the MS Society.

In the 1980s, when things started getting worse, I really turned to God. It helps me deal with what I’m going through, Coerber said.

In his tidy bedroom are Garfield birthday balloons and cards on a wall. On other walls are aerospace posters and photos. There is also a huge poster of hot air balloons in flight.

On a poster of a Stealth Bomber are the words, The sky’s no limit. On a small poster showing a dark and cloudy sky are the words, No matter how dark the day, the sun will find a place to shine.

It’s pretty obvious, that despite MS, the sun shines in Coerber’s heart.

With MS, I’m limited in the things I do, he said. But I’m not limited in my life as far as being active and productive.

Coerber said he plans to be at the MS Walk slated for Saturday, April 17 at the Lancaster marketplace in Lancaster. He’ll be there with his team, King David and His Court.

I believe the awareness of MS that gets out there because of the event is as important as the money that is raised, even though the money is the main focus, Coerber said.

We need to get the word out about MS. People hear about Jerry Lewis and Muscular Dystrophy. And they hear all about AIDS and cancer. But they don’t hear much about MS.

Coerber put pressure on the chin control of his wheelchair and turned away from the computer.

I’m fortunate, he said. I can still move my shoulders, and my neck is strong. I’m thankful for that.

And I’m thankful for my faith in the Lord. It keeps me from wondering about the future and what might happen. With MS, you take whatever it hands you. And then you move on.

Dave Coerber – from Sandi Idleman

I just went to A.V. my senior year. I didn’t get to know many since it took a long time to meet people (such a big class we had) so I didn’t have many AV memories.

Because I wasn’t involved in the social part of school, I had more time to observe. I did remember Dave Coerber though. He sat a couple of seats behind me in Mrs. McCarthy’s English class. He seemed really shy, but always had a smile and always said “hi”.

Years later when I joined the reunion committee, I called David to tell him about a reunion (no internet then). He told me he had MS and was in a wheelchair, but he would see how he was doing when the reunion came. He did fine and came with his brother Dennis. My next chat with him was when the next reunion was being planned. He said his health had slipped some and that, again, he’d have to see how he was at reunion time. He didn’t get to go to that one. We had – had such a nice phone chat. He was such an interesting, intelligent guy so I’d call him occasionally to say hi and find out how he was doing.

He made the next reunion. Not the actual reunion, but the evening before – the cocktail/welcome party. By then Dave couldn’t do much physically. He had a chin-operated wheelchair and had a full-time caregiver living at his house. He definitely wasn’t housebound though. Even though it took hours to get him ready, he had Medi-ride deliver him to the Desert Inn and then after he’d stayed awhile, take him home. He loved seeing everyone again and had such a good time.

I had lost my sister-in-law to MS and because of this special friendship with Dave, I started doing the annual MS walk in Lancaster. Dave would come out in the worst weather where going a half a block was a major chore, but he did it. He always loved it that whoever the reporter was would see him, take a few pictures and write an article about him. With most, it’d be an ego thing, but for David, it was another means of spreading the word to get one step closer to finding a cure. One year, we cracked up because we saw that year’s reporter down the street. The then Mayor of Lancaster also saw him and immediately came over and started walking with Dave and I as though we were his best friends. Photo Op.

The last MS Walk that we did together was our most fun one. Dave’s caregiver was in the hospital and Dave could only come if he had someone to help him when he got there. He arrived in a church bus (he was the only passenger) and his life was in my hands until the festivities were over. I figured Dave must be the bravest person ever to do that. I was a little worried that I’d feel awkward taking care of him, but he made it so easy for me to make sure his hat covered his ears, that he was sitting comfortable and in feeding him lunch. We went to the starting point and the weather was horrible. Right across the street from the start was Wal-mart. I told Dave that perhaps it’d be a good idea if we walked indoors and would he like to do it at Wal-mart. He loved the idea – said he hadn’t been in a store in years – so we did. We bought him some new slacks, played with toys and had a great time. When we went out – we automatically joined the rest and finished the walk. I suppose that was cheating, but it was so much better than his fighting the strong winds that day. We started calling it the MS Wal-mart Walk.

In all the years I knew Dave, I never once heard him complain. Our phone friendship started because I felt sorry for him and wanted to cheer him up. So little time passed before I realized that this friendship cheered me up, and I called him because he was so interesting whether we were discussing politics, history, life, personal stuff or WWII. He was amazing, and it was so hard to ever feel sorry for him because he had so many friends, a fantastic outlook on life and was an incredible human being. I learned so much from him. We don’t find friends like him often in life, and I miss him a lot.