Long Branch Restaurant Owner Welcomes a New Baby and Faces an MS Diagnosis All at the Start of the Pandemic

June 28, 2021

March 2020 was a whirlwind for Darrell Wordelmann, the 45-year-old co-owner of Rooney’s Oceanfront Restaurant in Long Branch, New Jersey. On March 4, his son Thomas was born. Less than two weeks later, COVID-19 brought everything to a halt, including shutting down his restaurant.

“When you’re in the restaurant industry, stress is just the name of the game,” says Darrell. Add in a newborn baby and the pandemic shutdown, and anyone would be overwhelmed. For Darrell, he experienced all of that and physical symptoms of concern.

“I was getting this weird, sunburn-like sensation on my calves,” he explains. At first he attributed it to his sleepwear, but changing clothes didn’t make it go away.

By summer 2020, Rooney’s was opening up again. Darrell was working outside at the restaurant and the weird feeling seemed to pass. “But then I jinxed myself,” he jokes. “I remember being outside in mid-July wearing shorts and I said to myself, ‘I feel great.’”

Darrell Wordelmann

Not Taking ‘No’ for an Answer

A few weeks later, Darrell started feeling something in his eye and his vision got blurry. Soon he was feeling tingling in his wrist, the sensation in his leg came back and his right arm was numb. He already had an idea of the cause.

“My mother passed away 21 years ago, and she was in a wheelchair since I was 8 or 9 years old,” Darrell says. His mother had multiple sclerosis (MS), a sometimes debilitating disease that affects the central nervous system. “If my mother didn’t have MS, I never would have pushed the issue with my doctors.”

His primary care doctor, an orthopedic doctor and a neurologist all said they didn’t think it was MS. Darrell then found a local MS expert right in his backyard: David Duncan, M.D., director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center at Jersey Shore University Medical Center.

“I looked him up and found out he worked under my mother’s doctor years ago,” Darrell says. “He is a true MS specialist. When you talk to Dr. Duncan, you can tell he’s more than a doctor; he’s like a scientist. I could tell he knows this disease.”

Finding the Right Fit

Dr. Duncan has been treating patients with MS since the 1990s. “When I was in medical school, you couldn’t do much for people with MS,” he explains. “People’s lives were destroyed by losing work and losing relationships. But as we moved forward, therapies got stronger and stronger, and now MS patients can live normal lives.”

At the MS Center, Dr. Duncan and his colleagues take a comprehensive approach to the disease. “MS can affect so many different parts of a patient’s life,” he says. “When we see a patient, we take an entire assessment of their whole physical self and we take an aggressive approach. Early diagnosis and treatment are key because you need to strike early to have an effect and change outcomes.”

Speaking with Dr. Duncan, it didn’t take long for Darrell to realize he made the right choice. “From the start, I thought I was in good hands. But by the third visit, I knew I was in great hands,” he says. “I asked him questions about stem cell therapy and diet and about my baby and the chances of other people in the family getting it. He was able to give us clear answers and make my wife and me feel comfortable.”

Giving Back

Darrell has been working with Dr. Duncan on his therapy since his official diagnosis on October 19, 2020. He received his first doses of medication in December 2020 and January 2021, and two months later, he could feel some of his symptoms recede.

“I never stopped working,” says Darrell. “I just went and did what I had to do. I also put a lot of effort into keeping a clean diet and doing the right exercise. I committed myself [to controlling this disease] in three different ways: medication, diet and exercise. I’m putting whatever it takes into it.”

Darrell’s battle with MS inspired him to start a foundation called Single Parents with MS to raise money for single parents affected by MS.

“I’ve always thought there was an opportunity to do something in my mom’s honor,” says Darrell. “We’ve raised about $25,000 through a Mustaches for MS raffle, and once the pandemic lifts a little bit, we’re hoping to have our first small event in fall 2021. I just want to be able to help someone in need. Whether it’s one person or 100, I’ll feel like I accomplished something.”

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