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Josh Harding diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis

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Sitting on a white leather couch in the living room of his Edina home, Josh Harding doesn't get emotional as he tells his story.

He looks completely healthy. He doesn't seem scared. He speaks so confidently, so courageously, you'd never know his life has been altered forever.

"I don't look at this like I've got to take a new path," said Harding, drafted 10 years ago by the Wild and months off signing a new three-year contract. "This is a little bump in the road. I've had lots in life."

Harding, 28, has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an incurable autoimmune disease in which the body randomly attacks and eats away the protective lining of his nerves and causes them to scar. It causes problems with balance, fatigue and blurred vision. There are 25,000 new cases diagnosed in the United States every year.

"I had a couple days where I felt bad for myself, but no more," said Harding, who plans on continuing his career. "There's things in life that happen. Sometimes you can't explain it. You deal with it."

After keeping the disease private from everyone other than his immediate family for more than a month, Harding began calling friends Wednesday. He spoke to nearly every one of his teammates. He called Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher and coach Mike Yeo.

"Josh's competitive fire has led him to a successful career in the NHL and we know he will approach this new battle in the same manner," Fletcher said.

And Harding has made clear that MS will not end his career.

"There's going to be some good days and bad days, but I think if you talk to anybody in life, there's going to be some good days and bad days," Harding said.

Discovery and treatment

It started with a tweak in his neck. That evolved into dizziness, seeing black spots and numbness in his right leg.

"I just knew that something wasn't right," Harding said. "Honestly, I hadn't felt normal for a bit."

It was Sept. 27, and Harding went in for a Magnetic Resonance Imaging test on his neck. Wild doctor Dan Peterson noticed an abnormality and summoned Harding back to his Edina practice for an MRI of his brain.

Peterson discovered lesions and called Harding back to his office that night.

"I told him I thought it was MS, and he wasn't like, 'Woe is me,'" Peterson said. "He's like, 'What do we do? Tell me how to go forward.'"

Over the next few weeks, Harding underwent a battery of tests to rule out other afflictions. He met with neurologist Jonathan Calkwood of the Minneapolis Clinic of Neurology, whom Peterson calls the "MS guru." Peterson's diagnosis was confirmed.

For six weeks, as Harding tried to gain control of the disease with the support of his parents, Tim and Eileen, sisters Stephanie and Becky, and his fiancée, Sara, Harding didn't work out. He didn't show up to skate with fellow locked-out players, who grew worried.

He has been put on an aggressive treatment of medication in order to prevent new lesions and thus further episodes of "immune system flareup."

"It bodes well that we got on it right away before he got into a cycle of getting run down," Peterson said. "Maybe he never has another episode. Seventy percent of people with MS still go on to live long, productive, fulfilling lives. And from the first day, Josh hasn't lost that 'I'm going to kick its butt' attitude, so he can do this. There's no doubt he can keep playing."

Two weeks ago, Harding was cleared to skate again.

"The [other players] said after six weeks off, I didn't look out of place, which was big for me to hear," Harding said.

'I don't want people moping'

Harding has decided to tell his story for two selfless reasons.

The first is he is still optimistic the NHL lockout will end in time to have a shortened season.

"I'm a team-first guy," Harding said. "If we play a 41- or 60-game season, you lose seven in a row, you're not going to catch up. Let the distraction be now rather than when we're on a four-game road trip, we need to win and all of a sudden it leaks out."

Harding also wants to create awareness and be an example for those suffering with MS. He's already considering a charitable foundation.

"Even if it changes one person's life to show that I'm not letting this come between me and my goals, that would be awesome," Harding said.

Still, Harding can't seem to catch a break. He's endured the physical toll of hip surgery and reconstructive knee surgery, the emotional toll of losing close friends Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien in 2011.

"Still here though. Still here," Harding said, smiling. "You can let it get you down for a bit, but you've got to move past it. I know what my overall goal is to be, and that's a No. 1 goalie of the Minnesota Wild and to win a Stanley Cup here. It would make me happy to overcome this. Not just overcome this, but to really succeed with it.

"I don't want people treating me different, I don't want people feeling bad for me, I don't want people moping around. I want this to be a story where when we look back, it was a happy story."

http://www.startribune.com/sports/wild/181297631.html?refer=y

Best of luck to him. Hope he can continue to have as normal a hockey career and life as possible.

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MS is an awful disease. I used to volunteer for the MS society when I was in high school as my long-time neighbour suffered from the disease for as long as I can remember and the quality of life some of these people have when it gets bad is just terrible.

Hopefully a cure will be found in our lifetime

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Wow, that's terrible. But as long as he has a great attitude towards it, he will get through this. Hopefully they find a cure soon.

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Never thought bad about him as a player, always thought he was decent, but now I'll most definetly have respect, his attitude towards this is amazing! Goodluck Harding!

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So sad. Thoughts and prayers to him and his family. He's a battler, has a great attitude.

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Jesus. Harding has had a rough few years. Wish him good luck.

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Well, that fraking sucks! I hope he's able to manage it and still accomplish everything he wants in his career and his life.

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Classy guy who has already had to go through a lot in his lifetime.

Best of luck to him.

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Good for him. I have the utmost respect for his attitude and how he's handling something so terrible.

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Oh, man. There's few guys in the league I love as much as Josh Harding. His demeanour and approach to the game has always impressed me. He could easily have left the Wild to take a starting job this year, knowing that Backstrom is still likely going to be their guy, and he signed at a discount to fulfill some sort of personal commitment to seeing the Wild's plan through. His 'In Memory of' mask, the combo of Rick/Boogard/Pavol with the dedication to his Grandmother on the front is wonderful. He's always seemed like the nicest guy, no matter how much life tests him. MS is horrible. It's an awful thing. No punch line coming. I wish the best to Harding

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My buddy in Australia has MS and has been fighting it for almost 20 years. He has a wife and two wonderful kids. I really do hope we get a cure sooner rather than later. All the best to Harding, he seems like such a classy guy.

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184999497163647435_bW3reKmo_c.jpg

That mask. It's so awesome that you disregard your instinct to make a joke about it. Because it's that great.

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A guy i know recently passed from it. Sad part is his son found him on the floor choking on something and because he was special needs he was unable to do anything to prevent the choking. Sadder part is that the guy's family didn't even properly honour him at his funeral. They kinda treated him like he was already dead. It was really undeserved, because he was a real nice guy who didn't really deserve that kind of crap.

Best wishes, Josh Harding.

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184999497163647435_bW3reKmo_c.jpg

That mask. It's so awesome that you disregard your instinct to make a joke about it. Because it's that great.

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I remember seeing his mask for his sister who has breast cancer and I've always had tremendous respect for him since then. He's not just a talented goalie, but he's always come off as an amazing person and is clearly a courageous guy.

Best of luck to him.

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This might be a setback in his career if he has another episode but it's by no means the end. Courtney Taylor, a receiver for the BC Lions, was diagnosed with MS back in 2008 but that didn't stop him and it won't stop Josh.

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Poor dude. I hope he can continue playing. Best of luck to him

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