Laramie Daily Boomerang, Aaron LeClair , Associated Press
Tom Mangan discusses his multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis and the MS-support group he founded in Laramie, Wyo. on Dec. 13, 2011.

LARAMIE, Wyo. — Five years ago, Laramie resident Thomas Mangan was at a football game when he experienced a sign of the disease he couldn't avert. The hair on the right side of his head hurt.

"I was wearing a sweatshirt with a hood. And it was all I could do to get it up over my head it hurt so bad. Why? It made absolutely no sense," Mangan said.

He thought he had a pinched nerve, but an initial X-ray and MRI at a local clinic didn't detect anything. After a series of medical examinations, including spinal fluid analysis, Mangan was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Before he was diagnosed, Mangan, vice president of First Interstate Bank in Laramie, also had experienced other changes in his body, including limited sensations in three fingers of his right hand, cramps in his legs and fatigue.

"I would go home at night and sit down and go to sleep. It didn't matter if we had company or not," he said. "(Before MS) I was one of those people who could stay up until 10 p.m., 11 p.m., 12 a.m. and get up at 4-5 a.m. and I was fine . I couldn't control it."

He informed his employer of the diagnosis and the potential side effects of his medications. But not everybody diagnosed with MS feels they can be open about the disease with their employers out of fear of losing their jobs, Mangan said.

Shortly after Mangan was diagnosed, he decided to start a local support group for people who have various unanswered questions about the elusive disease.

"I want people to know that there's somebody who has MS that they could call and talk to (about) why things are happening. One of the most important parts in a disease, and I don't care what disease it is, is support," he said. "It's one of those (diseases) that people hear about it, but they don't really know a lot about it because it's so different in how it affects people. It can be anywhere from affecting your ability to walk, to write. Part of the problem is you don't know. Today you are fine. Tomorrow you've got an issue."

The National MS Society defines MS as a disease that affects the central nervous system by disrupting the flow of information from the brain to the body; it has no known cause and no known cure. MS usually strikes between the ages of 20-50 and 73 percent of those diagnosed are women. Wyoming has one of the highest incidences of MS in the nation, the organization reports.

"It's like the cable on my computer monitor that goes down your spine and that's where all your nerves run through. MS causes a lesion on that so when they get big enough and open then the brain sends a signal for me to do something with this arm, and the signal goes out instead of going through," Mangan said.

Mangan's decision to form a support group in essence became a revival of the MS support group that used to exist in Laramie but had lost its momentum by the time he was diagnosed.

Now, the group has about 12 members who meet every second Wednesday of the month at the Ivinson Memorial Hospital. The group invites guest speakers for presentations on various topics that affect people with MS such as physical therapists, yoga instructors and brain specialists. The group also receives educational information from the National MS Society on various issues related to the disease.

Each year in March, the group, in conjunction with the UW College of Nursing, organizes a walk to promote awareness of the disease and raise money to help local people affected by MS.

For his work with the Laramie support group and the National MS Society, the Colorado-Wyoming Chapter of the National MS Society recognized Mangan in November as the Wyoming Programs Volunteer of the Year.

Mangan said there are 70 people in Albany County who are diagnosed with MS, but there are others who don't know they are affected by it. Increasing awareness about the disease and raising more money are some of Mangan's goals for the Laramie support group.

"I didn't do it for recognition," he said. "I do it because I think it's important. The bank supports me in my medical issues, but the bank supports the community, and I think those things are very important — to give back. This thing just happens to be very personal because I have the disease. If I can help, however little that help is, I want to do it."

Information from: Laramie Daily Boomerang - Laramie, http://www.laramieboomerang.com