TV viewers know her as the charming and funny co-host of ABC's The View, who frequently jokes about her husband, whom the audience has never seen. But behind the scenes Meredith Vieira's life is very different from her TV world of celebrity interviews and beauty makeovers.
For 30 years her husband, Richard Cohen, a respected news producer and writer, has lived with multiple sclerosis. Now he has written an inspiring account of that battle in his new book, Blindsided.
"I've pretty much made fun of him all the time," she says. "Because that's the kind of relationship we have. We poke fun of each other." The book is a brutally honest and raw portrait of their family's refusal to give into the ravages of chronic illness. Above all, it is a love story about surviving, and rising above fear and anger.
MS has taken its toll on Cohen. He is legally blind and the disease has also attacked his vocal cords, arms and legs. Mysterious and unpredictable, MS is a neurological disease that affects an estimated 400,000 Americans, rarely fatal, but it wreaks havoc on the body's central nervous system and can cause blindness, loss of balance, slurred speech, tremors, and paralysis. There is no cure and patients never know where it will strike next.
Cohen's first glimpse of the storm ahead came when he was 19 years old. His father, a doctor, revealed to him the family secret that he and Cohen's grandmother had MS. A few years later, Cohen was working as a news researcher when suddenly he became disoriented, spilling coffee, slipping on the street, his leg going numb. When he was 25 he learned he had MS.
"There's an expression "diagnose and adios," and "see ya" because really there were no treatments of any kind," says Cohen. For years he worked as a producer at CBS keeping his diagnosis a secret. "I lied to get the job," he says. I faked my way through the company physical … I was scared to death because by now I was somewhat blind in both eyes. "
He eventually told his bosses and then pressed on covering wars and politics. The dating front was a different story. He says that some women fled for the nearest exit when he told them his secret. But not Meredith Vieira.
When he met Vieira in the early '80s, except for his eyesight Cohen's MS was barely noticeable. He was still young and athletic. On their second date, he told Vieira about his condition.
"He asked me 'What does MS mean to you?" Vieira says. "And I said 'It's a magazine. MS magazine.' The worst that I thought was that he could lose his sight. And I was OK with that."
The couple married and when they decided to have children they underwent genetic testing and were assured that Cohen's condition was not hereditary. "Sometimes it's a leap of faith, says Vieira. "I fell in love with this guy with MS … This man's an incredible guy. So anybody that I produce with him, I think would be pretty cool. That was my feeling."
'I Felt Like a Fourth Child'
When Vieira became pregnant with their second son Gabe things got worse. CBS demanded that she work full time. Instead, she left 60 Minutes. It was a crossroad. And Vieira chose family over career. In the early '90s, the Cohens moved with their three children Ben, Gabe and Lily, to the New York suburbs. There, as his MS began to worsen, Cohen says he felt helpless, like a fourth child.