The pain pulsing through Frank Moses Jr.’s body is constant.
“I’ve been dealing with pain for so long, I’ve gotten used to it. If I say something, I’m pretty much on the extreme end of it because I don’t want anyone treating me like I’m all ‘woe is me’,” said the 46-year-old Army veteran.
Few people would accuse Moses of moaning or feeling sorry for himself. Even the Department of Defense recognizes his fortitude. On Oct. 4, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter presented him the Outstanding DoD Employee with a Disability Award.
As a management analyst for Defense Logistics Agency Human Resources, Moses manages and tracks tasks moving through various DLA offices in the agency’s automated Task Management Tracker. He also alerts users of suspense dates and intervenes when conflict occurs between action officers. Usually, he leads them to a compromise.
“It’s certainly not an easy job, but Frank’s manner and ability to connect with associates at all levels truly embodies the mission of DLA Human Resources’ Business Office,” said Steve Hermann, Moses’ supervisor.
Employees who see Moses in his wheelchair probably wonder why he can’t walk. Few ask, and few know.
In 2004, after months of watching his body slowly deteriorate with few clues from doctors on why, Moses was diagnosed with dysautonomia, an incurable condition in which the autonomic nervous system malfunctions and reduces the body’s ability to regulate heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, kidneys, body temperature and more. According to Dysautonomia International, patients often experience light headedness, fainting, unstable blood pressure, abnormal heart rates and malnutrition. Severe cases can result in death.
On Mother’s Day weekend in 2004, Moses felt what he described as a rubber band snapping at the back of his head, just above the neck. He’d suffered from excruciating migraines since serving as an Army trucker in the Gulf War and didn’t think twice about it. When he returned to his job as a mail carrier in Fayetteville, North Carolina, the following Monday, Moses told his boss that he felt “funny.” The sensations were hard for him to describe.
“I carried some of the mail, but had to take the rest back to the post office because everything just seemed like it was going off balance. I went home, and the minute I put my key in the door, I blacked out,” he said.
Doctors at his local Veterans Affairs hospital told Moses and his wife, LaTonja, that he had an upper respiratory infection. At home, things got worse. He was readmitted for two days but sent home again with no answers. Then LaTonja heard him hyperventilating in the bathroom moments before he passed out on the floor mat. She rushed him to a private doctor’s office, where he languished for a week, feverish, losing all desire for food. From there, he was taken by ambulance to Duke University Hospital, where tests came back negative for everything from multiple sclerosis to Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Moses’ body started shutting down as his fever soared to 104 degrees. Doctors packed him in ice and finally, three days later, the temperature broke. Repulsed by the smell of eggs and the sight of toast, he was put on a feeding tube.
“They told my wife I wasn’t going to make it past the next 30 days, but I couldn’t believe that God had brought me that far just so I could die. I had my wife and two young girls to take care of,” he said, admitting that he had no idea what dysautonomia was until he was diagnosed.
Doctors believed there was nothing they could do but keep Moses comfortable until he perished. He was discharged and sent to a rehabilitation center in July, then sent home after just one week when the staff tired of his persistent requests to leave. There, he lay in bed for 10 months.
“I couldn’t sit up. I couldn’t even hold a fork in my hand,” he said. “We take it for granted that we can stand up and take care of ourselves until we go from being a grown adult back to the infant stage.”
LaTonja chose not to wait for death to come. She searched the internet until she found Dr. Caroline Kline, a neurologist in nearby Chapel Hill. By then, Moses had shrunk from 240 to 157 pounds. Kline agreed to treat Moses although his was one of the most severe cases of dysautonomia she’d seen in her 30 years of practice.
Every other day from 2005 to 2006, nurses shot two vials of intravenous immunoglobulin into Moses’ veins to regenerate the nerves in the back of his head. His health gradually improved, and the treatments were decreased to just one a month. In 2009, he was well enough to accept a job with DLA Information Operations. Still, the couple drove back and forth from Virginia to North Carolina for treatment and physical therapy until 2010.
Moses can now stand on his own, but only for five to 15 minutes before his blood pressure drops. Most of his symptoms are invisible: excessive fatigue, weakness and lack of appetite, to name a few.
“I get to a point where I stutter or can’t put my words together. I know what I want to say in my head, but my brain and my mouth won’t work together,” he said.
The daily struggle to stay healthy hasn’t tempered Moses’ desire to be a strong part of his work team. This year, he earned a Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt certification to help facilitate continuous process improvements in his office. This and other opportunities make the agency a place where people with disabilities can grow, he said. The one thing he said bears improvement: handicapped accessibility.
“When I first got here we didn’t have wheelchair ramps out to the parking lot and bus stop. That’s changed, but there should be handicapped doors to all the restrooms and office entrances, not just some of them,” he said, adding that its easier for those with mobility challenges to press a button so the door automatically opens than it is to manually pull the door open and get through it.
Trust in God, his family’s love and believing in himself have been mainstays in Moses’ journey.
“Faith has played a big role in my life. Your attitude also makes a lot of difference in how you get through tough times,” he said. “If you can believe it, you can achieve it. That’s been my motto all through my life, even when doctors told me I wasn’t going to make it.”
DLA currently employs over 2,800 people with disabilities and was recognized in July by the Department of Defense as a model employer of people with disabilities.