By Ammu Kannampilly, AFP
KATHMANDU–A multiple sclerosis sufferer hoping to become the first disabled person to skydive over Mount Everest says he wants his feat of daring to send “a message of hope” to others with the disease. “I am a happy person. Probably a little crazy … just a little. First, happy,” 55-year-old Frenchman Marc Kopp told AFP in Kathmandu ahead of his scheduled tandem skydive next week. Kopp, who lives in Longwy, northeast of Paris, has suffered for more than a decade from multiple sclerosis, the degenerative nervous system disease which disrupts the brain’s ability to communicate with the body.
Muscles weaken, lesions emerge on the brain and spinal cord and in the worst cases, patients can lose the ability to speak or walk. Although he usually uses a wheelchair, few places in Nepal are disabled-friendly so he manages with a walking stick, holding on to his friend, champion skydiver Mario Gervasi, who will accompany him on his jump. It was 13 years ago when Kopp, then a senior manager in local government, felt a haze before his eyes. He dismissed the blurred vision — a symptom of MS — as a sign of working too hard. Then he had trouble moving his right leg, experiencing sharp pain when he tried to do the simplest tasks.
His right arm followed and soon, his whole right side hurt. An enthusiastic horseman, eventually every activity became painful. After a battery of tests, he was diagnosed in 2001 with primary progressive multiple sclerosis, a form of MS with almost no prospect of remission. “I thought I was prepared to hear anything, it had taken so long, one year to diagnose the cause. But when I heard the news, it hit me hard,” he said. A friend sent Kopp MS-related reports but he couldn’t bear reading them. “But my wife looked at all of them and saw our future,” he said. “Seeing her so frightened made me realize I had to be strong, I had to face my illness,” he added.