While your timelines have been flooded with news about COVID-19, you might have seen a few orange ribbons adorned with a butterfly symbol. That’s because the month of March is Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Awareness Month.
Multiple Sclerosis is a disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack the central nervous system. This includes the brain and the spinal cord. People that battle MS are in a vulnerable community that can not be left behind in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several of our employees at Farmers Bank & Trust fight it every day. Karen McLelland, Senior Data Analyst in Prescott, Arkansas, was diagnosed in November of 2006.
“Before my diagnosis, I knew something was not right,” McLelland said. “My legs and arms would hurt, I couldn’t stand to be outside in the heat, I wanted to sleep all the time (still do), and my short-term memory was spotty at best. I still have all these symptoms plus some others.”
Common physical symptoms of MS include fatigue, trouble walking and loss of balance, blurred vision, and numbness and tingling in the face, feet, and legs. However, it’s different for all patients depending on what nerves are affected. McLelland explained the disease like an electrical cord.
“MS causes the body to attack the myelin sheath around the nerves in the brain and/or spinal cord,” she said. “Think of an electrical cord. If the covering of that cord gets damaged, it will short out. In my case, the optic nerve is sometimes affected and the nerves in the frontal lobe of my brain.”
Lasheca Hill, Loan Assistant in Malvern, Arkansas, relates to McLelland because she has experienced many of the physical symptoms since being diagnosed in 2008.
“Doctors did an MRI, X-Ray and a spinal tap. That is when they told me I have lesions on my brain, neck and spinal cord,” Hill said. “I would rather have a broken bone, which I’ve also experienced than deal with this on a daily basis.”
Recently, Hill experienced a relapse. This happens when a new symptom occurs, or an old symptom returns or worsens. She spent time in the hospital and rehabilitation before returning to work.
“It’s a very scary situation,” Hill said. “I try to smile to hide the pain, but inside I’m just screaming. I really try to stay as busy as I can because I don’t want to be considered disabled. I am strong, but there’s no denying this is a crippling condition.”
A big misconception of MS is that everyone with it is wheelchair-bound. McLelland and Hill are not. They will tell you it’s a daily battle, but they choose to fight it out and make the most of each day.
“People with autoimmune diseases are the same people they were before their bodies decided to attack themselves,” McLelland said. “We just have symptoms that we must workaround to do our jobs. Some days I can only give 70%, but some days I will give you 115%, it just depends on what nerve MS is on that day.”
No matter the day, we choose to support our employees through their difficulties. We encourage those who may not know about Multiple Sclerosis to read up on it and learn what living with this unpredictable disease is really like.