FAIRFIELD — Saxophonist Herman Wilson likes to give and get hugs. The 57-year-old Fairfield resident will get what may be the biggest hug of his life Aug. 24.
Wilson has multiple sclerosis. He refuses to treat it with medication and focuses on his diet and regular workouts.
He’d like to try something new: hyperbaric medicine. His insurance won’t cover it, he said.
A bevy of friends, who also happen to be musicians, will be part of “Hugz for Hermz” at the Empress Theatre in Vallejo. They, too, will probably be the recipient of a hug or two from Wilson.
The longtime musician refuses to let the crippling condition affect his life, particularly his passion for music. He still plays. When his fingers don’t want to cooperate, Wilson hangs on to the note he’s playing. Musicians he plays with have learned to improvise in those situations, he said.
Wilson vividly recalls what he believes was the first symptom he felt. He was playing at a wedding reception, got a chill on his lips and his hand started to have a mind of its own. His first thought: “This is what it means when you get to be 30.”
Things got worse. One year he could score 28 points in a pickup basketball game. The next year, he was being picked up off the court, he said.
He got the diagnosis in 1990. Wilson said he wasn’t comfortable with what he was hearing and thought to himself, “I don’t want to be on the Jerry Lewis telethon.”
“In a strange way, you feel like you will be cast away from everyone,” he said, “that a major cloud hangs over you.”
He didn’t put down the saxophone and continued working for Solano County Mental Health Services until he retired in 2009.
“It’s been such a game-changer,” Wilson said of multiple sclerosis. “There’s nothing like MS. It came into my body. It’s a part of me now.”
Life is very unpredictable now. One time, while ill with the flu, he fell while walking to the bathroom. Wilson said he crawled into the bathroom, shut the door and found a sense of peace. Five minutes later, he was able to get up and take a shower.
Wilson’s friend Cindy Allen came up with the idea for a benefit. She also dealt with a neurological condition and endured for many years before finding hyperbaric medicine.
“I’ve watched his MS progress,” Allen said.
That concern, with the care and kindness Wilson has given her, convinced Allen it was time to take action. She started planning the show less than three months ago.
“It’s been a wild ride,” she said.
Local promoter Jeff Trager is part of the team and Allen connected with Sweet Relief, a nonprofit that helps raise money for career musicians who are struggling to make ends meet while facing illness, disability or age-related problems.
All the performers at “Hugz for Hermz” gave an enthusiastic response to being part of the benefit, Allen said.
“He’s feeling how much of an impact he’s had now with this outpouring of support,” she said.
Performers include Rick Stevens, former Tower of Power lead singer, and Solano County favorites, The Time Bandits.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.