By Daniel J Vance MS, LPCC
A column I wrote weeks ago about the Service Dog Project (and its Great Danes) prompted responses from two Niagara-Wheatfield (NY) Tribune readers. One of them, Monica Mary Shields of North Tonawanda, New York, also shared with me her personal experiences with multiple sclerosis (MS).
According to the National Institutes of Health, MS is an “unpredictable disease” of the central nervous system, one ranging in severity from “relatively benign to somewhat disabling to devastating, as communication between the brain and other parts of the body is disrupted.” Most people with MS have limb muscle weakness and balance difficulties, which can greatly affect walking. Many have cognitive impairments.
In a telephone interview, 46-year-old Shields said, “In 2000, I was working and living in Yosemite National Park (Calif.) as a bartender. The nursing staff there was more prepared for tourists that had colds rather than MS. I was having bladder and bowel malfunction and was losing body strength. Working was tough. The day before being diagnosed (March 2000), I was driving to Fresno to get my windshield replaced and (because of weakness) was having to lift (by hand) my right leg to go from the brake to the gas pedal.”
She eventually entered a physical rehab center, where she regained use of her arms. Doctors initially thought she would never be able to walk, but after her sister from New York visited, she began taking steps using a cane. She was diagnosed with the relapsing-remitting form of MS and soon returned home to New York.
Shields went on to have another serious MS “attack” ten days before giving birth to her son in 2008. That same year, after having entered an assisted living facility and later a nursing home, she began receiving disability payments. Today, she has memory challenges, and in order to get around uses a cane and a motorized wheelchair. She can take up to only 25 steps at a time without needing some assistance walking.
She said, “I don't have a driver's license, but do have a letter from the doctor saying I am free to retrain for a drivers license.”
She advised people diagnosed: “MS isn't a death sentence. There is life beyond it. However, if you have a mobility disability, it's sometimes challenging going out and having people look at you strangely.” To stay active outside home, she does community volunteer work.
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