Philanthropist Nancy Davis Opens Up About Life with Multiple Sclerosis and Her Mission to Help Others

"I was really lucky," the Race to Erase MS founder tells PEOPLE of her 30-year-battle with the debilitating disease as she gears up to host her 29th annual fundraiser

Philanthropist Nancy Davis was living a relatively normal and healthy lifestyle at 33 years old until a ski accident changed everything — doctors discovered she was suffering from much worse than an ACL tear, but rather Multiple Sclerosis, or MS.

"I felt that the ski accident was causing me to lose feelings, so I had a knee brace and all these things, and it didn't make any sense why I was losing feeling everywhere," Davis, who was also suffering from a loss of eyesight and sensation in her fingers and hands, tells PEOPLE. "But, it turned out it was MS, and I found out three weeks later."

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, MS is an unpredictable disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and body.

"In terms of the cause of MS, we have developed a good working model," Dr. David A. Hafler, M.D. and Neurologist-in-Chief at Yale New Haven Hospital in North Haven, Connecticut, tells PEOPLE. "We have identified the hundreds of common genetic variants that cause MS, and research now is focused on better understanding progressive MS."

Nancy Davis
Nancy Davis on the ski hill with her son as she battles MS. courtesy Nancy Davis

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The founder and designer of Peace & Love Jewelry had no idea how sick she already was and found herself suddenly getting much worse. Suffering from what Davis calls MS attacks, she'd feel numb in certain positions. Still in a state of shock, the young mom says she panicked.

"When I went to my first doctor and he started showing my X-rays all over the room with a light, he was pointing this laser on them and saying, 'Do you see that spot on your brain? Do you that spot on your spinal column?' I'm like, 'Oh my God, this is not good. This is really bad. I'm a mom, and I have a lot of life to live.' It was such a rough time."

Doctors told Davis she was on track to lose the ability to complete basic tasks like use the TV remote or get her own meals. That plan didn't work for Davis, who began researching and taking matters into her own hands.

"I started going from center to center talking to different doctors and I wanted everybody to tell me I didn't have MS because I was heavily in denial," Davis explains as she traveled the country looking for answers. "I was told there was nothing I could ever do and life as I knew it was over."

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - MAY 10: (L-R) David Foster, Nancy Davis, Avril Lavigne and Phillip Sarofim attend the 26th annual Race to Erase MS on May 10, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for Race To Erase MS)
Philanthropist Nancy Davis poses with David Foster, Avril Lavigne and Phillip Sarofim at her annual Race to Erase MS Gala in Beverly Hills. Randy Shropshire/Getty

Davis eventually found a team of doctors who put her on the right medicines and treatments so she could live a relatively normal life.

"Relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis [MS] has become a highly treatable, autoimmune disease and early therapeutic intervention is critical in preventing brain and spinal cord damage," Dr. Hafler explains. "Treatment by an MS specialist with newer therapies such as B cell depletion administered by experts is important."

CENTURY CITY, CA - MAY 02: (L-R) TV personality Randy Jackson, musician Steven Tyler, host Nancy Davis, and musician David Osmond perform onstage during the 21st annual Race to Erase MS at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on May 2, 2014 in Century City, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Race to Erase MS)
Philanthropist Nancy Davis gets on stage with Randy Jackson, Steven Tyler and David Osmond at her annual Race to Erase MS gala. Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty

Now, Davis makes it her mission to help others who have walked in her shoes by raising funds for the foundations she started, Race to Erase MS Foundation and Center Without Walls program. Her star-studded fundraiser will take place on May 20, 2022 in Los Angeles and guests can expect a great time with headliners Nile Rodgers & Chic as Davis continues to help find a cure.

"We put it right into really important research," Davis, who has raised between $55-60M since starting the foundation 31-years-ago, explains. "We have seven to eight research hospitals at any given time and what we raise every year goes to funding their basic science research studies. We find things that have never been done in areas that have never been conquered and we do pilot studies. Many of those pilot studies have ended up becoming really important medicines right now that are saving lives."

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