In 1992, after five-and-a-half years in the U.S. Air Force, a reduction in force saw Mark Reese unemployed and looking for a way to support himself. He spent the next five years trying to make ends meet with several different retail jobs, as he applied for positions that would lead to the next phase of his career. While on a daily run, a friend suggested that Mark apply to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), which turned out to be the right opportunity for him.
Mark began the two-year application process and in 1999 was in training to become a DEA special agent. But during a qualifying run at the Quantico training facility, his right foot failed to lift mid-stride, and he fell.
After undergoing surgery for compartment syndrome and trying unsuccessfully to qualify four more times, Mark accepted a less physically demanding position as a DEA diversion investigator in 2001. It wasn’t until a year later that doctors thought they’d found the reason for Mark’s continued “foot-drop” occurrences and occasional leg weakness while running, biking, and climbing: they diagnosed him with multiple sclerosis (MS).
Over the next 11 years, despite receiving medical care for MS and maintaining an active lifestyle, Mark’s symptoms were intensifying and began to affect his personal and professional life. “My right leg would shake while rock climbing, or my foot would drop off the pedal while riding my bike,” Mark said. “As an athlete, I just wanted to push myself to keep going, but my body just wouldn’t cooperate.”
He began to rely on a cane while out in the field on work assignments. Still, he struggled with the fatigue and weakness, eventually falling while on a job. The DEA organized the purchase of a scooter for him to use while at work and finally in 2011 transitioned him to an in-office role as a program analyst.
It wasn’t until 2013 that Mark learned the correct and more serious diagnosis of ALS. Knowing the severity of the disease and its correlation with military service, his doctors told him he needed an advocate.
They advised me to visit the VA to discuss my care and benefits,” he said. “But they told me to talk to Paralyzed Veterans of America first. They said Paralyzed Veterans would take care of everything, and they were certainly right.
Mark began working at the Paralyzed Veterans Sacramento Service Office. They helped him complete and file the forms for a power chair and an adaptive vehicle so he could continue to work as the muscle weakness became more severe. They helped him obtain the adaptive housing grants so he and his wife could stay in their home.