Actor living with MS takes stage in leading role after many years
By Matt Defusco
Published: Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, 12:20 p.m.
Cory McCaffery Sigler worried that his acting career was over when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis more than a decade ago.
But recently, the South Park man had his first lead role in a production since his 1998 diagnosis. And he performed without his wheelchair.
In the year before his performance, Sigler gradually taught himself to walk again, with the help of a new medication.
“I want them (people) to know that you have to hold on to your dreams ... I never stopped doing what I loved,” said Sigler, 35.
“If I can do it (others can). I'm not Superman, by any means.”
Sigler had the role of the Man in the Chair in the Tony Award-winning musical, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” which played in September at the McKeesport Little Theater. The show portrays a man whose obsession with a fictional musical from the 1920s — “The Drowsy Chaperone” — leads him to encounter the characters from the show in his apartment while listening to a recording.
Before his diagnosis, Sigler had made a name for himself in acting circles. He performed with Latshaw Productions in Greensburg and Pittsburgh Musical Theater, as well as other companies.
Gradually, he went from being strong to losing mobility to the point he had to use a wheelchair.
Sigler, then in his mid-20s, noticed that he became fatigued easily and was tripping a lot.
“It just kept getting worse and worse and worse,” he said.
He was diagnosed with primary-progressive multiple sclerosis, which initially causes subtle symptoms. The disease affects the central nervous system and has no known cause or no cure.
About 350,000 people or more in the U.S. have the disease, according to the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America.
Over time, Sigler lost use of his right hand. He also had to use a wheelchair. But he remained in the theater by taking jobs he could do from his wheelchair, such as directing and behind-the-scenes work.
Sigler also started the company McCaffery Mysteries Inc. in 2001.
“Our mission is to provide a top-quality performance that focuses on team building and problem solving,” Sigler said.
McCaffery Mysteries Inc. produces comedic murder-mystery shows. Sigler hopes to see it grow.
Sigler's condition improved a little more than a year ago when he was began taking Ampyra, the brand name for the medication dalfampridine, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2010 to help with mobility in people with multiple sclerosis.
The chemical aminopyridine — from which the medication is derived — has been around since the 1990s but has been improved to be a safe aid for patients with MS, said Dr. Rock Heyman, the director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center for UPMC.
The drug allows messages to travel more efficiently through the passages in the brain that have been affected by MS, Heyman said.
About one-third of patients who take the medication experience positive results, with the major side effect being seizures for those prone to seizures or those with kidney problems, Heyman said.
Because the chemical has been around for so long, Heyman said, he does not expect any long- term side effects for patients so long as their health stays positive.
Six months after taking the drug and seeing no results, Sigler was ready to discontinue taking it.
Sigler remembers the day that changed his mind. He was cutting tomatoes for dinner when his wife pointed out to him that he was using his right hand — the side that had been affected by the MS.
“I just instinctively started cutting with (that hand),” Sigler said.
He kept building strength and continued to take the drug. Sigler began to walk again.
Dorothy Fallows, the director of “The Drowsy Chaperone,” worked with Sigler before he got sick and continues to do shows with him.
Sigler's success in acting is, in part, due to his persistence in making each show as perfect as he can, she said.
“He's so hard on himself,” Fallows said.
Fallows said that Sigler is “150 percent more mobile” and was able to accomplish all the things he needed to for the show.
Mandy Sigler, 31, Cory Sigler's wife, said taking the new medication has “made big changes in his life.”
Her and her husband were told that the drug was not a cure for multiple sclerosis and that in order to continue experiencing the benefits of walking, Sigler would have to continue taking it, Mandy Sigler said.
The couple met online when Cory Sigler was experiencing the worst of the MS symptoms. After two years of communicating online, they met in person. Today, they have a son, Paxton, 4, and a daughter, Meadow, who was born Oct. 21.
Sigler, who is directing a production of “Lend Me a Tenor” that will run at the McKeesport Little Theater in March, said he wants to talk to others about his story to encourage them.
“So many people fall into depression,” he said.
“It doesn't have to be that way.”
He said that those who have multiple sclerosis should try not to let it prevent them from enjoying their lives.
Heyman also offers encouragement to those who suffer from MS.
“There are lots of things people can do to get help, and also to help themselves,” he said
Sigler said his biggest problem with living out his dreams is figuring out “ how,” not “ if.”
“Life is just so good,” Sigler said. “I don't want to see others throw it away.”
Matt DeFusco is an intern with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Analysis: Kesler remains on Penguins’ radar as Shero looks bring back ‘Big 3’ formula
- Starkey: Steelers know when to say goodbye
- Penguins GM Shero’s deadline deals: Addition by subtraction
- Ex-Colts executive Polian: Approach free agency with caution
- With so many needs, Steelers can ill afford to miss in draft
- Pirates’ big risk with pitch-heavy draft focus might soon pay off
- Steelers defense doesn’t make the grade in 2013 review
- Penguins minor league report: Defenseman Dumoulin optimistic for home stretch
- Ukrainians steel to resist Russian aggression
- Greensburg bishop’s time at helm draws to a close
- Penguins notebook: Fleury feeling sharp entering tough stretch