Photo Story: Overcoming Battles with Love

“I was diagnosed in ’97 and I was walking. I started to do physical therapy and that summer I was walking fine. Then the next summer, not so good. I went from a cane to a quad cane, eventually to a walker and then to a scooter. And then when I went into the scooter, when I sort of lost the ability to walk, that’s when I thought, ‘Oh my god, I’m not even 30, I don’t have a husband, who’s gonna want to marry a woman in a wheelchair?’ I just really thought my life was over,” Jennifer said.

Jennifer and Dan Digmann read over a classroom presentation they are giving to physical therapy students while watching a Lions football game at their home in Mount Pleasant, Mich.
Jennifer and Dan Digmann read over a classroom presentation they are giving to physical therapy students while watching a Lions football game at their home in Mount Pleasant, Mich.

Dan, 43, and Jennifer Digmann, 41, have been married for 10 years. Dan was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting Multiple Sclerosis in 2000 while Jennifer was diagnosed in 1997 with relapsing-remitting MS which was reclassified to secondary-progressive MS.

“I knew going into it what this could entail in terms of being the caregiver for somebody who can’t walk, who needs my assistance on things,” Dan said. “You just have to remember this is the person you fell in love with, and this is the person you made these promises and vows to,” he added.

The two met at an event held by the National MS Society where Jennifer was a small group leader and they immediately hit it off. “I figured, okay, this is the day I need to bring my A-game, I need to impress this girl cause I thought she was really cute,” Dan said.

“And he did,” Jennifer added.

Dan, 43, helps Jennifer, 41, finish eating her salad during his lunch break. Dan and Jennifer eat lunch nearly every day together.

Through the Medicaid Waiver Program, Jennifer is able to receive 32 hours of help per week from her caregivers, Crystal and Marcus. This allows Dan to continue his full time job as Assistant Director of Creative Services for University Communications at Central Michigan University.

“I think the day I found out what I had most likely was MS was probably worse [than the formal diagnosis] because it was like, that’s the reality that it’s not like a cold, I’m gonna be carrying this with me the rest of my life – you can’t escape it. There was a lot of tears, a lot of fear because you don’t know, you have no idea how aggressive the disease is going to be with you,” Dan said.

Although they remain positive, there have been times of doubt and frustration.

Dan injects himself with Betaseron which is a medicine that helps decrease the number and frequency of flare ups of his multiple sclerosis.

“When Dan is angry, nine times out of ten, he’s not angry at me, he’s angry at my disease or at his disease and that used to almost reduce me to tears because if I fall, well, he can’t lift me up. We have to get my hoyer lift and it’s a pain in the butt, it’s a big process and he will be muttering and using a little salty language. And the first time I remember just laying on the bathroom floor in tears, I’m like, ‘You want a divorce, don’t you?’ and he’s like, ‘No, Jennifer, we’re in this for the long haul.'”

Dan helps Jennifer up from the couch to get ready for bed. They enjoy watching football together and often fall asleep on the couch because they want to spend as much time together as possible before bed. “Neither one of us wants to go to sleep because then its like time that we’re not together,” said Dan.
Dan helps Jennifer get into their bed after spending the evening eating dinner and watching TV. “I’m supposed to be there for her. I’m her husband and I’m her caregiver…But I’m her husband first,” said Dan.

16 years since Dan’s diagnosis and 18 years since Jennifer’s, they continue to live life to the fullest.

“I don’t know if I would have had the experiences I’ve had without him. We went to New York, we went to Fort Worth, I wouldn’t like Springsteen if it wasn’t for him,” Jennifer said with a chuckle.

Dan and Jennifer have published a book together, attend MS support groups, actively participate with the community at their church and give speeches nationwide to help educate others on MS in hopes to put a positive face on disabilities.

Dan lifts Jennifer from her wheelchair so she can use the bathroom.

“People with disabilities are like anyone else and we can be happy. I often say I’m gonna talk about MS so much that people will cure the disease just to get me to shut up,” Jennifer said with a laugh.

Through it all, they maintain a positive outlook on life and find strength and comfort in each other and through their faith.

Dan works at his office on the campus of Central Michigan University where he is the Assistant Director of Creative Services for University Communications. “I enjoy my job, I like working. I need to get home at 5 o’clock , cause she needs me home..I can’t wait to get home cause I just like being with her…We can’t be apart,” said Dan.

“Faith has almost everything to do with it – I’ve never asked why me, but I’ve always told God, ‘Help me’,” Dan said.

Jennifer goes grocery shopping with her caregiver, Marcus. “I like cooking, I like cleaning, I like doing things but I don’t have to do that because she’s makes sure that she has all of that in check before I get home. And she always says ‘Oh but I don’t do anything…Crystal and Marcus do everything.’ She’s the one marshaling things, she’s the one making lists and she’s the one that knows we need to do this because Dan needs this done…she’s my caregiver,” said Dan.

“When I was first diagnosed, it was very much, ‘Okay God, if this is what I’m to live with, I can do it, I just need your help.’ Among other things, I met Jennifer.”


They share quiet moments together, like digging through a bowl of popcorn to find the half popped kernels to sitting on the couch together until they can’t keep their eyes open, just to spend a few extra hours together.

Dan hugs Jennifer goodbye as he leaves for work after lunch. Jennifer jokingly asks Dan if he checked his email to see if he can take the rest of the day off. “If I’m at home for the weekend and I know I need gas in my car, just to take those 20 minutes to go up to the gas station, I’m just thinking, ‘That just sucks,’ cause that’s 20 minutes that I can’t be with Jennifer,” said Dan.

“She’s my everything, she’s truly my partner in crime,” Dan said.

So can you define love?

“Instantly, I want to say Dan Digmann,” Jennifer said.

Photos and story by Emily Mesner