Nova Scotia

Denise Peterson-Rafuse, New Democrat MLA, takes leave after MS diagnosis

Denise Peterson-Rafuse, the New Democrat MLA for Chester-St. Margaret's, is going to miss the spring session of the Nova Scotia Legislature because she has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

'For me to back away from work is a really difficult decision. But it's one that right now I must do'

When politicians return for the spring session at Province House on Thursday, Nova Scotia's NDP will have only four sitting members.

New NDP Leader Gary Burrill doesn't have a seat, veteran Maureen MacDonald has announced she is stepping down from politics and Denise Peterson-Rafuse has taken a leave of absence as she deals with her recent diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.

Peterson-Rafuse, 54, said taking a break from her job was a tough choice to make.

"For me to back away from work is a really difficult decision," she said. "But it's one that right now I know I must do."

The Chester-St. Margaret's MLA said she started to feel a tingling sensation in her right hand just before Christmas. Eventually, that turned into sharp pains.

"It went like that and then it stayed like that 24/7," said Peterson-Rafuse. "I thought it might have been a result of a prior carpal tunnel syndrome surgery."

But that wasn't the case. She spent nearly three weeks in hospital in Halifax. Now, back at her home on the South Shore, she's taking 32 pills a day.

'Very positive about this'

Peterson-Rafuse was elected in 2009 when the NDP stormed to power with a majority government. Premier Darrell Dexter made Peterson-Rafuse his minister of Community Services. 

She was re-elected in 2013, but her party lost power and many of her NDP colleagues were defeated.

Peterson-Rafuse said she's just taking a break from politics to deal with her MS. She vows to be back at her job as soon as she can and plans on running in the next provincial election.

"I know some people are telling me that I shouldn't do that because stress is really hard on you when you have MS," she said. "But if I'm not doing what I love to do then I would say I would have more stress."

While on leave, Peterson-Rafuse said she'll be relying heavily on her staff at her constituency office in Chester.

Although she'll be able to answer constituents' concerns via email, she's not sure how long she'll be away from the job.

Right now she's taking things day by day and admits her diagnosis has been a game changer. But she also realizes her health could have further deteriorated if she wasn't admitted to hospital for treatment.

"Once the damage takes place you can't reverse it, so you know I have to look at the fact that I'm actually very lucky," said Peterson-Rafuse, who's glad she's still able to walk.

"I know there are other people in this world who have worse struggles than me, so I'm going to be very positive about this."


Paul Palmeter is an award-winning video journalist born and raised in the Annapolis Valley. He has covered news and sports stories across the province for 30 years.


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