By Daniel J. Vance MS, LPCC

It was around 1996 when Shirley Courrier, then of Clear Lake, Iowa, began experiencing an odd tingling sensation in her legs and feet. She had only 18 months before lost her 49-year-old husband unexpectedly to a heart attack and was going through a difficult period emotionally.

Courrier, 73, said in a telephone interview, “So I went to Mayo Clinic and my first diagnosis (for the tingling) was one of probable multiple sclerosis (MS). But I didn't just get MS then. Hindsight tells me I had symptoms long before that. It wasn't until I was 54 when they said I definitely had MS, which is late in life for someone to be diagnosed with it.”

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, MS is an “unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and the body.” Courrier's particular version of MS has been primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS), which involves “worsening neurologic function from the onset of symptoms, without early relapses or remissions.”

Her first reaction upon hearing the news from doctors was one of fear, but eventually she began accepting her condition and learning how to live with it. Two years after her diagnosis, she moved north to Minnesota and later became involved with a local MS support group affiliated with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

She said, “Our local support group (in southern Minnesota) was formed by an employee of Mayo Clinic Health System and she led the group two years. Then she wanted some of us to take it over for her. So I and another member became co-leaders three years ago. We had to go through training to be leaders.”

Courrier said her group meets monthly under the National Multiple Sclerosis Society umbrella. Some topics of discussion include fatigue, depression, bowel and bladder issues, eyesight, and anything else that can arise from MS.

Courrier said she gets around using a walker, but does drag her right leg, has right arm weakness, and experiences at times a great deal of fatigue. She still drives her automobile with the help of a left-foot accelerator.

She said, “Our motto for the National MS Society is adapt, adapt, adapt. MS affects every person diagnosed in a different way. I would advise people newly diagnosed with MS to join a local support group. When you are discouraged, the group can encourage you. ”

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