Four years ago, Orlando resident Kimberly Cole woke up with no feeling in her left calf and fuzzy sight in her right eye. She thought it would go away as the day progressed and immediately made an appointment with her eye doctor when it didn’t. He found that her optic nerve was inflamed and recommended she see a neurologist because he suspected multiple sclerosis.
MS is a disease in which lesions or plaque form, causing damage to the protective covering in the central nervous system including the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. Doctors typically arrive at an MS diagnosis by ruling out illnesses like lupus, Lyme disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Methods for diagnosis include an MRI to spot lesions, a visual recognition perception test to determine how quickly the eyes can process information to the brain, and a lumbar puncture to determine if there are protein bands in the spinal fluid, something that is only present in MS patients.
Although it can take years for someone to be diagnosed with MS, it only took about two weeks for Cole’s diagnosis to be confirmed. Since she had symptoms 12 years ago that went away on their own, she believes a perfect storm of stress in her life, in addition to her low vitamin D, contributed to the illness coming back to stay.
“I was persistent with the doctors to figure out what I needed,” she says, noting that raising a 12-year-old son with Down syndrome taught her to work hard with medical professionals to get things done. “It’s just part of my nature to really press until I get an answer.”
Medication and low-impact exercise has helped Cole slow the progression of the illness. She also sees a neuropsychologist regularly to practice out-of-the-box thinking and critical thinking skills to help her work around the areas of loss in her brain.
Although MS can take a toll physically, causing pain and extreme fatigue, Cole actively participates with the Down Syndrome Foundation of Florida as an advocate for her son. “MS almost takes a back burner to that if that’s even possible,” she jokes.
Cole also makes time to participate in Walk MS through the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, proving that life goes on even with a scary diagnosis like the one she received four years ago. She encourages others with MS to be open to people about the disease and to never give up.
“My journey changed when my youngest son was born [with Down syndrome] and my journey changed when MS was introduced into my life,” she says. “It doesn’t mean your life ends. It doesn’t mean you can’t do things. It just means that your journey changes and you might have to do things differently. I still live life to the fullest, and with the support of friends and family, I think I’m living a fantastic life even with the disease.”