Paul Prill: Racing for a very special gift
Tissue donation can speed research
Paul Prill loved cars. From 1972 to 1994, he raced a 1962 Lotus Super 7 that was practically a member of the family. “I was born in 1973,” says Paul’s son Eric, “so I always viewed it as an older sibling. I helped my dad as crew from when I was old enough to hold a wrench.”
Paul was diagnosed with MS in 1993 at age 51. “At a race in 1994, he won and took the ceremonial victory lap with a checkered flag. He got out of the car and was having trouble standing up or picking his foot up off the pedal because of numbness. Right after, he told my mom that it was his last race,” Eric says. Giving up racing was the first admission that the MS was getting to him. “Driving a race car in the heat of the summer, with the equipment—fire suit and helmet—is hard enough for someone who is 100% healthy.”
But the Lotus is still in the family. When Paul quit driving, he turned it over to Eric, who’s been driving his dad’s car for 16 years now. His most recent race, in July 2010, was his hundredth–tying the number that Paul drove.
Eric added one thing to the Lotus: the National MS Society’s 1-800-FIGHT-MS number, which he painted on the front and back of the car and on his helmet. “That’s really to remind people that it’s my dad’s car,” Eric says. “I may be driving it, but there’s a reason he’s not driving it anymore. I’ve never put my name on the car, like a lot of racers do. 1-800-FIGHT-MS is in honor of my dad and to get the awareness of MS out there.
“My father was patient and strong, and rarely showed his frustration,” Eric continues. “He became involved in early clinical trials in Cleveland, but none of them slowed the progression. It was tough to watch him become physically disabled. But we all admired the way he handled it and fought it.”
Even as his health declined, Paul did what he could for the Society. He co-founded a support group for men. Then, he continued to help the Society even after his death on January 7, 2010. Paul arranged to have brain and spinal cord tissue donated to the Mellen Center for MS Research at the Cleveland Clinic.
“Very few people even know about tissue donation,” says Eric. “Dad only learned how important it is in his final months.” The National MS Society supports three MS tissue banks, which store tissue from people who had MS and provide it to researchers to study multiple sclerosis’s nature, cause and effects—an essential contribution to finding a treatment for the disease.
“We also learned that we had to plan ahead,” Eric notes. Brain tissue that’s to go to research must be prepared within hours after death. (This does not interfere with normal funeral arrangements.) “The Society was very easy to work with,” he adds.
Paul asked to be cremated and when Eric won his first race after his dad died, he took his mom, Pat, on the victory lap where she scattered ashes as they went.
This summer, the first “Paul Prill Memorial Double National Race” was held at Nelson Ledges Race Course near Cleveland. The track announcer/chaplain held a special memorial service, and the race organizers presented Pat, Eric and his sister Tracey Slife with checkered flags embroidered with the event logo as a keepsake.
“The event ended on a great note—I won my race,” Eric reports. “What we took away from our experience is to never stop fighting for a cure. That’s really our mission, to let people know that if more people arranged to donate their tissue, maybe we’d get to a cure faster. We hope Dad’s final fight will help other people.”
Read here about tissue donation.