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Sports Announcer Dave Johnson Talks About Fighting Multiple Sclerosis, Which His Mother Had

"I have to fight it and help others fight it”

Dave Johnson, an unmistakable voice of D.C. sports radio and a beloved member of the News4 family, is battling multiple sclerosis, the same disease his mother struggled with when he was a child.

The radio voice of the Washington Wizards for more than 20 years, Johnson is known for his sense of humor and strong work ethic. He also calls D.C. United soccer matches and has worked at WTOP radio for 25 years in addition to his time on News4.

Last month, he was diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis, a disease that affects the central nervous system.

This form of MS is tough to treat, with symptoms that gradually get more severe, without periods of remission.

Johnson is familiar with MS symptoms, having watched his mother suffer from the illness.

“This disease ... you can manage it and live with it, or it can be extremely debilitating and lead to one's demise. I certainly watched that with my mom and that does scare me,” he said.

After an MRI, doctors told Johnson it looked like something has been lurking for 15-20 years.

“You don't think anything has been going on in there for 20 years, and now you're told something is going on,” Johnson said with a laugh.

Johnson has used his sense of humor to get through tough times his whole life. He said he tried to make his mother laugh. The two bonded over their shared love of sports.

As a kid, Johnson did play-by-plays of imaginary games to boost his mother’s spirits, and they enjoyed going to games as a family.

“When you went to a game, those three hours were a magic time,” Johnson said. “You didn't have any cares or concerns or wonder if she’s going to choke on her meal. You just worried about the game and you laughed and you had fun.”

When Johnson was 15, his mother died from complications related to MS. She was 43.

A million people in the U.S. have MS, which has no known cause or cure. Still, there are promising new treatments.

“You never want to get diagnosed with a chronic disease, but if you're going to get diagnosed with MS, now is a better time than it was 20 years ago,” said Joan Ohayon, a nurse practitioner in the Neuroimmunology Clinic at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. “Currently, the registered trials internationally are over 2,000 for treating MS — studying and understanding MS.”

There are 18 disease-modifying therapies to treat MS. But only one drug, Ocrevus, is approved by the FDA for patients with primary progressive MS.

Johnson is likely to start infusions soon.

“The goal with MS is to stop its progression,” Johnson said. “It's my new companion that I'm not going to get along with. It's staying with me until we figure out how to cure this thing.”

Johnson hopes to take on this new challenge with humility and a sense of humor. 

“I love what I do,” Jonhson said. “I love being at Channel 4 at night and at WTOP in the morning. When the alarm goes off at 3 or 4 and there's that moment you think, 'What am I doing this for?' And then the adrenaline kicks in.”

Johnson leans on the strength and wise words of his mother to get him through this unpredictable disease.

“I do think there's a reason it's back in my life," he said. "It had been away for a lot of years. Now I have to fight it and help others fight it.”

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