Pechar gift to furthur pediatric MS research

By Sharon Reynolds

After years of suffering from debilitating headaches and numbness, Maxine Pechar was finally diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in her 50s. The disease affects the central nervous system and is marked by attacks and remissions, as well as symptoms that appear and disappear. Getting a diagnosis can be challenging.

“When I was 17, the left side of my body went numb,” Mrs. Pechar said. “It affected my tongue, and I was afraid I’d never be able to talk normally again. I spent a lot of time crying. My doctor told me it was caused by migraines and would eventually go away, which it did. After that, any time I had numbness or weird vision problems, I just assumed migraines were the cause.”

It wasn’t until she began experiencing tremors that she visited with a neurologist and was referred to an MS specialist at UTSW. “I thought I was much too old to get something like MS,” she said. “Lucky for me I went to see the specialist.”

Mrs. Pechar and her husband, Ed, couldn’t be more grateful for the more than ten years of extraordinary care that she has received from Dr. Benjamin Greenberg, an internationally recognized expert in treating adults and children with autoimmune disorders of the central nervous system. In response, the Pechars have recently made a $500,000 gift to UTSW’s Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute to support Dr. Greenberg’s MS research.

“Dr. Greenberg is probably one of the most involved doctors I’ve ever had,” she said. “MS is a difficult disease to live with, and with this gift, we want him to find a way to help children with MS.”

“MS typically starts in adulthood, but 5 percent of patients are thought to have their first onset before the age of 18,” said Dr. Greenberg, Associate Professor of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics and Pediatrics. “While pediatric MS is a relatively rare condition, there are many adult patients like Maxine who in hindsight recognize they had onset well before their first ‘adult’ symptoms. Often these symptoms go unnoticed, misdiagnosed, or dismissed. Studying pediatric MS allows us to have insights into the causes and progression of MS because we are studying the disease much closer to the date it manifests.”

Research suggests that pediatric patients with MS suffer from a wide range of complex medical, cognitive, and psychological symptoms over time, which may threaten their quality of life and successful transition to adulthood. Dr. Greenberg and his team are conducting an advanced imaging and cognition study within the pediatric MS population.

“This research is going to fundamentally change our understanding of the disease, give a new mechanism for tracking children’s responses to therapy, and help to equip our children with the tools they need to succeed academically, despite dealing with a chronic medical illness that can attack their brain,” Dr. Greenberg said.

“The Pechars’ generosity provides new hope to untold thousands with the disease. Finding the underlying causes of brain injury that result from MS and other immune mediated disorders will provide the basis for prevention and cures. Dr. Greenberg’s research will change the trajectory of MS for young patients and help them cope with the challenges of living with a chronic illness,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern.

Mr. Pechar is an owner and Chairman of McCormick Distilling Co. The Pechars have three children and four grandchildren, and divide their time between homes in Dallas and Bel Air, California.

“Maxine and I are the kind of people who think we’re very lucky in life,” Mr. Pechar said. “We know what MS is like, and we know it could be a lot worse. There’s a lot of education and research that can be done. It’s our turn to take care of those who are going to follow us.”


Dr. Greenberg is a Cain Denius Scholar in Mobility Disorders.

Dr. Podolsky holds the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.