Connections Create a Powerful Force

How CARRE is trying to change the future for those with MSA.

By
Kay Segal, Senior vice president, trade relations and conference education

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Tom spent 10 years in the convenience store division of Tropicana Products Inc., which was later acquired by PepsiCo. During this time, Tom was working in the area of national accounts management. He later moved to NBTY and focused on selling the MET-Rx product in the convenience channel. Tom’s hard work and leadership brought him great success during this time as the company introduced and achieved mainstream distribution of its own line of nutrition bars, which played a major role in bringing MET-Rx to a category leader position within the industry. Tom was on top of his game, and on top of the world, but his health soon took an unfortunate turn for the worst.

In August 2008, while on vacation in Florida with his three daughters, Tom noticed that he was having trouble walking after a day on the water. Tom spent his childhood by the ocean in Ireland and on the Jersey Shore, so he shrugged off his troubles as he and his daughters made their way back to their hotel. It wasn’t until later in the evening that Tom, recalling his troubles at the waterfront, nervously approached a long flight of stairs leading down into the hotel dining room. Tom thought to himself that his feelings were strange, and diagnosed himself with an ear infection.

Soon after this experience, and after visiting with seven of the best neurological hospitals in the country (Johns Hopkins, Mayo Clinic, NIH, UCLA, etc.), Tom was diagnosed with MSA. The diagnosing doctor told Tom that there was no cure for MSA and that little could be done on his behalf.

Rex’s Story

Rex Griswold is an industry and personal friend to many. He has been with Nestle Waters North America since 1992, most recently leading the convenience retailing sales force as vice president of sales.

In September 2011, Rex noticed some different balance issues, such as spilling the coffee he was carrying and wavering on his bicycle when riding, which he enjoyed regularly with a group of friends. Between then and February 2012, Rex further noticed that his speech had started to slur and his handwriting deteriorated, becoming almost illegible. Rex decided to use his yearly physical at Cooper Clinic in Dallas to get answers.

The night before, Rex wrote down all the things that were wrong or different from his physical the year prior. Rex left the appointment with a most likely diagnosis of a stroke and a laundry list of to-do’s and doctors to see. After some tests ruled out a stroke, Rex went to a local neurologist, who told him that he thought he had ataxia, but he would need to see another neurologist in the practice who specialized in movement disorders. He prescribed a few tests before the visit with the specialist, including an MRI. The neurology specialist said the MRI showed an atrophy of the cerebellum, and confirmed the ataxia. She then referred Rex to another specialist and ran many tests, including one to determine which type of ataxia he had and if it was hereditary or not. It came back negative for hereditary ataxia. On June 1, 2012, Rex had an appointment at Columbia Hospital in New York with a specialist in movement disorders. After a three-hour appointment, he was given the diagnosis of MSA. A later appointment at Yale confirmed
that diagnosis.

Over the past year, Rex’s life has taken on new meaning and direction. Still working with Nestle Waters as vice president of strategy, Rex interfaces with team members and clients, but his travel schedule has been greatly curtailed because travel is quite taxing. Nestle Waters employees and management have not only been supportive of Rex, but they have also taken a very active role in our CARRE efforts, holding fundraisers throughout the country and spreading the word of the plight of their colleague via social media.

Rex has also become very active with the MSA Coalition. One never knows where life will lead, and embracing life positively has always served Rex well. This is no different; Rex believes he has a purpose. After a recent move to Texas to be closer to family, Rex is now focused on the purpose of raising awareness about MSA. “At some point, I won’t be able to get around at all, so while I can, I will do all that I can,” he says

In January 2013, Rex received the Nestle Waters North America President’s Award. As shared by Kim Jeffrey, president & CEO of Nestle Waters, “Your accomplishments have been critical to our success, but more important to all of us is how you have done it. Unfailing humor, candor, mentoring, real friendship mixed with [being a] role model—the kind of behavior which inspires people. Believe me when I tell you, people are inspired by Rex Griswold.” This sentiment has been echoed by many industry members and those who know Rex from outside the industry as well.

Making Connections

Consultant Debbie Wildrick worked with Tom Gillard when he was in the industry and kept in contact with him once he retired after the diagnosis of his disease. While attending a NEW (Network of Executive Women) event in 2012, Debbie heard Kim Jeffrey speak. After his speech, she approached Kim to reintroduce herself, having met him while she worked at 7-Eleven years prior. While she was speaking with Kim, Rex’s name came up, and Kim told Debbie about Rex’s recent diagnosis.

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