Atlanta, GA,
09:30 AM

Woman with MS Becomes Advocate and Donor for People with MS

Carol Cetrino of Atlanta supports the MS Institute at Shepherd Center.

In 1982, Carol Cetrino was living in Houston, newly engaged, and just starting her career. Then she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).

“The doctor basically told me that life, as I knew it, was over,” Carol says. “I shouldn’t work, shouldn’t tax myself; I should just take it easy. Children were out of the question.”

Luckily, Carol a scrappy, young self-starter from New York, would hear none of it. Instead, she went on to get married, build a successful career in the hotel and pharmaceutical industries, and have a son.

Carol eventually got divorced, and moved with her young son, Ryan, to Pennsylvania and then New Jersey. She managed her MS as best she could, by researching every possible option and enrolling in clinical studies. Her life was filled with adventure, challenges, joy and heartache.

She chronicles these ups and downs in a new memoir called “By the Seat of My Pants: How I Survived a Nasty Divorce, an Incurable Disease and Learned That No Matter How Bad Things Get, You Can Always Pay it Forward.” All of the proceeds of the book (available on are going to the Andrew C. Carlos MS Institute at Shepherd Center.

In 2007, after a particularly bad flare-up, her doctor told her she would have to stop working. She had just left WebMD and had a few contract jobs. Dealing with the stress, excessive travel and raising Ryan as a single mother had finally taken its toll. The woman who had been told in 1982 she’d have to quit her job lasted 35 more years in the workforce.

Eager to leave New Jersey, Carol was looking for a fresh start. She had seen Ben Thrower, M.D., medical director of the MS Institute, speak at a conference and was impressed by what she heard. She visited Shepherd Center and decided she would move to Atlanta and continue treatment there.

“The MS Institute is such a positive place,” Carol says. “It’s not what you would expect when everyone has an incurable disease. But there is so much hope at Shepherd.”

Donating money from her book is the latest way Carol is supporting the MS Institute and its patients. Through a family fund named for her mother, the Ann Allen Cetrino Foundation, Carol and her family have donated around $450,000 to the MS Institute over the past six years. The funds have helped cover insurance co-payments, prescriptions, medical equipment and other expenses for qualified MS patients at Shepherd Center.

“MS is one of the most expensive diseases to have, mainly because of the longevity of it,” Carol says. “People are often diagnosed at an early age and can live with it for a very long time.”

Aside from financial support, Carol has helped fellow MS patients by educating them on the disease, showing them how to navigate the insurance system and providing a sympathetic ear.

Carol now lives in Roswell with her second husband Mark and spends her free time volunteering for various organizations and advocating for people with MS. She also serves on the Shepherd Center Advisory Board.

While she has done a lot for the people who share her disease, she has received just as much in return, she says. In fact, along with her son Ryan, she dedicates her book to “…all the MS patients I have come to know. Because of their strength, I have mine. I also want to thank God for putting the talented doctors, nurses and researchers within my reach and allowing me to have the quality of life I have been blessed with.”

For more information on giving to Shepherd Center, click here.

Written by Sara Baxter
Photos by Phil Skinner

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.