FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For Two Disabled Campers, Weeklong Vacation Leads To Love, Enduring Commitment & Even A Child
By Samantha Harrigan, Public Relations Intern
NOTE TO MEDIA: Reporters are invited and encouraged to attend and cover MS Vacation Week to be held Sunday, June 17, through Saturday, June 23, at Easter Seals Hemlocks Recreation Center in Hebron, Conn. Opportunities to interview Linda Roucoulet and David Ouimette are available throughout the week. To confirm attendance and schedule an interview date and time, please contact Karen E. Butler, Vice President of Communications, at 860.714.2300, ext. 230, or by cell at 860.997.4487.
HARTFORD, Conn.— The conversation ensues seemingly without him. He’s completely absorbed with the keyboard in front of him his only means of expressing his thoughts to others. The process is slow and cumbersome oftentimes, leaving him behind in the exchange.
When Linda, his lover, asks if their unfortunate lot in life has caused bitterness, his head snaps to attention. His look is one of surprise, and while he shakes his head deliberately from side to side, forgoing the delayed response available to him via the technology just at arm’s length, Linda, in perfect harmony with his gestures, sweetly replies, “Oh, no!” Just then, her soul mate’s own words echo mechanically from the speaking device, “If it weren’t for this, I wouldn’t know her.” Linda, beams and reaches over to squeeze his hand gently.
Linda Roucoulet, 38, and David Ouimette, 48, are in many ways, just like any ordinary couple in love. They delight in recounting the story of how they first met. They are open with their affection for one another. Although circumstances beyond their control keep them from marrying, their ring fingers are adorned with golden ornaments symbolizing enduring love and commitment. They share common interests, such as a passion for Red Sox baseball, Sunday matinees at the local cinema and the annual summer camp where they first met. They share another common bond, something of which few can relate; unconditional love in the face of disability.
A native of Hartford, Conn., Roucoulet was first diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS), a potentially debilitating disease affecting the central nervous system, at just 19 years old. She first began noticing symptoms in high school, when she would lose control of her bowels, but was too embarrassed to tell anyone even her parents.
“I had a morning paper route,” recounts Roucoulet, now able to speak openly about a time holding difficult memories. “There were times I couldn’t make it through the route. I was horrified. I didn’t dare tell anyone.”
A year later, she experienced numbness in her leg and developed a limp. By the time she sought treatment from a neurologist, she was unable to even sit up unassisted.
“It was like I hit a brick wall,” says Roucoulet. “All at once, it seemed, I was losing my strength and coordination. I didn’t know what was wrong with me.”
Surprisingly, however, Roucoulet says she was relieved to finally receive a diagnosis.
“Finally there was a reason why I was unable to get from point A to point B,” says Roucoulet as she stretches out her hand and rests it on her lover’s knee. “There was an explanation for my condition.”
More than 6,000 Connecticut residents, like Roucoulet, are diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The cause is unknown, and there currently is no cure. Symptoms can include, among other things, numbness in the limbs, difficulties with vision and speech, stiffness and, in some more severe cases, total paralysis. The progress, severity, and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot be predicted. Funds raised by the National MS Society, Greater Connecticut Chapter ensure ongoing scientific research to find a cure and provide for the continuation of vital programs and services offered by the chapter to those in the state living with MS.
Immediately after her diagnosis, Roucoulet began using a cane to help her walk. Her MS progressed quickly and she was forced to use a walker while still in her 20s. Today, she spends most of her day in a wheelchair. Roucoulet says she felt extremely isolated after being diagnosed because she wasn’t able to work and hardly ever left the house. Dating no longer seemed to be a possibility. A year after she was diagnosed, however, Roucoulet discovered MS Vacation Week, a summer camp that allowed her to enjoy nature, participate in activities she might not be able to otherwise and spend time with women and men battling the same disease.
Hosted by Greater Connecticut Chapter, in conjunction with the Central New England Chapter, MS Vacation Week is a weeklong respite held each summer at Easter Seals Hemlocks Recreation Center in Hebron, Conn. Camp Hemlocks is located on 166 acres of forest with a 22-acre lake for boating and fishing. Specially designed for accessibility, the facility provides a unique environment allowing for optimal opportunity and independence. The camp offers individuals with MS the opportunity to experience fun-filled activities. For Roucoulet, it would also serve as the backdrop for a love story exceeding her wildest dreams.
Roucoulet first noticed Ouimette, a resident of South Hampton, Mass., at MS Vacation Week in 2002. Ouimette was diagnosed with MS at the age of 22. After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in marketing, he went on to serve in the Air National Guard for seven years while also working at a marketing firm located in Agawam, Mass. However, in 1993, the effects of his disease rendered him unable to work. Today, Ouimette relies on a wheelchair for mobility. His vocal cords have been paralyzed and he uses a computerized speaking device. Still, Ouimette, ever dashing and full of wit, is known as a bit of a charmer at MS Vacation Week.
“I was too shy to approach him because he always had other ladies around him,” says Roucoulet, who affectionately describes Ouimette as “forever a flirt.” “But it was his smile that caught my eye. He’s always full of life and genuinely cheerful.”
The two spoke after Roucoulet performed in a lip-synching act in the annual talent show and they immediately hit it off. After MS Vacation Week that year, they kept in touch by writing to one another and chatting over the phone. Eventually, they began dating, and Roucoulet says her feelings for Ouimette quickly developed into deep love and affection.
“What I appreciate most about David is his ability to listen, understand and be compassionate,” says Roucoulet. “I never have to explain anything to him. He already knows how I feel and what I’m going through.”
Remarkably, on October 4, 2003, the couple welcomed a blue-eyed baby boy into the world, a child whose conception even they admit was something of a miracle. Their son, Spencer, is now 3 years old, and is being raised by Roucoulet’s brother and his family. Because Spencer’s parents are physically unable to care for him to the extent that he might require, Roucoulet’s brother and family stepped in to care for the infant. Roucoulet and Ouimette visit Spencer as often as possible. A photo of their son is always within reach at the ready for a chance opportunity to sing his praise.
This weekend, Roucoulet and Ouimette will pack up to attend another MS Vacation Week reuniting with old friends and revisiting fond memories. This year, The National MS Society, Greater Connecticut Chapter has named Roucoulet recipient of the Susan A. Hyams Memorial Scholarship, a fund established by West Hartford resident and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center (CCMC) physician Jeffrey Hyams, M.D. Hyams established the annual scholarship as a tribute to his wife, Susan, who had always enjoyed attending MS Vacation Week but who passed away in 2002 as a result of complications related to multiple sclerosis. The 2007 scholarship will enable Roucoulet to once again attend a camp holding great significance.
“It means a lot to me that I have the support I need to attend camp,” says Roucoulet. “I look forward to the arts and crafts, and David loves the dance the chapter holds on the very last night of the weeklong camp. It’s good to spend time with others who understand what it’s like to have multiple sclerosis.”
While so many Americans search for love in all the wrong places, Roucoulet and Ouimette have found lasting love in a setting as wholesome, unassuming and nostalgic as an annual summer camp. And while so many marriages crumble under the stress of unexpected disability, Roucoulet and Ouimette have discovered disability to be the tie that binds.
“Although my wife Susan was sidelined in some ways, she did not allow MS to diminish her spirit,” says Hyams, noting that memorial fund recipients embody her same zest for life. “The more disabled she became, the more she wanted to do. Sitting at home was not an alternative. One lesson we learned from Susan is that self pity doesn’t get you very far; that living life is what we all should do.”
The 2007 MS Vacation Week will be held Sunday, June 17, through Saturday, June 23, at Easter Seals Hemlocks Recreation Center in Hebron, Conn. Space is limited and registration is required. If you would like to know more about MS Vacation Week or the Susan A. Hyams Memorial Fund, please contact Amy Watkins at (860) 714-2300, ext. 247, or e-mail at email@example.com. For more information on multiple sclerosis, its effects and becoming involved in the fight against MS, please visit http://www.ctfightsms.com/.
Samantha Harrigan is a junior majoring in communications at the University of Connecticut. She is currently completing a public relations internship with the National MS Society, Greater Connecticut Chapter. For more information on internship opportunities with the Greater Connecticut Chapter, please contact Karen E. Butler, Vice President of Communications, at kbutler@ctfightsMS.org.
CUTLINE: Hartford resident Linda Roucoulet and her partner David Ouimette share a laugh or two as the pair describe how they first met at the National MS Society MS Vacation week in 2002. The campers, despite disability, went on to fall in love. Roucoulet is the recipient of the 2007 Susan A. Hyams Memorial Scholarship, a fund established by West Hartford resident and Connecticut Children's Medical Center (CCMA) physician Jeffrey Hyams, M.D. The scholarship allows for Roucoulet to attend the weeklong camp.
CUTLINE: David Ouimette, whose vocal cords have been paralyzed by the effects of multiple sclerosis, uses a state-of-the-art, computerized speaking device to communicate with others. He says he has never given way to bitterness and says if it weren't for the disease, he would probably have never met his soul mate, Linda Roucoulet.
Karen E. Butler
Vice President of Communications
Greater Connecticut Chapter
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