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Meet the Scots teacher who's not letting MS spoil her dreams

Jennifer Smith

AN MS diagnosis just after her wedding left teacher Jennifer Smith reeling, until she decided to stay positive.

AS Jennifer Smith walked down the aisle she was full of excitement and hope for the future.

Soon afterwards, her world came crashing down around her and she was left wondering what she was facing.

Just eight months after getting married, she had lost feeling in her legs and was sitting in a wheelchair being told she had multiple sclerosis.

“When I look back at my wedding pictures, I realise I had no way of knowing what was just around the corner,” she said.

Jennifer has managed to battle back to walking again – with a stick – and has returned to work part-time as a teacher.

She refuses to let the condition stop her following her dreams and is determined to raise funds to help others with the condition.

Every year in Scotland, more than 600 people are diagnosed with MS and told there is no cure.

The MS Society are investing in research into the cause, cure and effective treatments, while giving support to sufferers, families and carers.

This week, news that a pioneering stem cell trial had helped some MS sufferers to walk again has given many people further hope.

Jennifer, 32, from Strathaven, Lanarkshire, had battled ill health from when she was about 12 – suffering chronic fatigue syndrome. But she fought on, playing hockey, dancing and singing.

“At that time I was suffering lethargy and fatigue,” she recalled. “Some days I could function and some days I couldn’t. I could be looking at a glass of water and not have enough energy to lift it.”

Jennifer started work as a primary teacher. She met her future husband – farmer Alan, 33 – through Young Farmers 10 years ago and he proposed in November 2011. The couple decided to tie the knot in the summer of 2012.

“We thought ‘We’re nearly 30 – why wait?’ Thankfully we went ahead,” she said. “If it had been 2013, we would probably have had to postpone.”

The couple married at Lochside House Hotel in New Cumnock, Ayrshire, in July 2012 and went on honeymoon to Dubai and the Maldives.

But after going back to work in August 2012, Jennifer began to feel unwell. She said: “I’d changed my job, bought a house and got married within a six-month period.

“Although I could feel myself flagging, I thought it was the stress of organising it all. After the honeymoon, I shut myself off. I’d been trailing myself to work as best I could then that September I hit a brick wall and couldn’t do it any more.

“I couldn’t work out why one day I was the most efficient, organised person in the world and the next day I couldn’t work out how to go to have a shower.

“I had my dream wedding and I got my dream job and everything was so good. I couldn’t understand why I was in such a state.”

Alan took her to the doctor where she was treated for depression.

“I wasn’t speaking,” she said. “I was sitting huddled up in the corner. I ceased to function.

“I was always shattered and was down and couldn’t process what was happening. Then I got a numb patch under my bra in February 2013 which spread to my thigh.”

She was in and out of hospital having tests while her condition deteriorated. Eventually she lost feeling in her legs and was paralysed from the chest down.

She had a lumbar puncture and MRI scan and by March doctors dropped the bombshell – she had relapsing remitting MS.

“They knew it was MS because of the extent of lesions on my brain and on my spine,” she explained. “We’d begun to suspect it might be MS – we had Googled the symptoms.

“In some respects, it was scary but part of me was relieved to know what was causing all the problems and that they were going to help. I’m a positive person and I thought they’d give me steroids and then I’d be able to walk.

“I didn’t realise doctors didn’t know if I’d ever be able to walk again. It depends how well your body recovers. But I presumed I’d get better every day.”

Jennifer was referred to a specialist MS consultant and transferred to the Douglas Grant Rehabilitation Centre in Ayrshire. It was the first purpose-built unit in the west of Scotland to offer a specialist integrated rehabilitation service.

It provides specialised treatments for people with very diverse needs, including MS, stroke, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s disease and motor neurone disease.

Jennifer is on regular Tysabri therapy treatment – dosing her with antibodies attach themselves to specific immune system cells. She says has helped. She said: “I was in a wheelchair for about three or months. It never crossed my mind that I might not walk again.”

Jennifer even took part in a concert with her Young Farmers group at the SECC in Glasgow from her wheelchair a month after being diagnosed.

The physical problems are nothing compared to other issues she’s faced. She said: “I have slight cognitive impairment. When my brain is fatigued, it doesn’t work properly.

“I can look at dishes in the sink and not know what to do with them. At other times, I can juggle 10 things at once. The brain issue scares me more than the problems with my legs.”

Jennifer managed to walk again and went back to teaching in August 2013 then had a relapse that October and now uses a cane.

She has been working part-time since August 2014 as she is determined to continue doing the job she loves.

And she’s so thankful to her husband, family, friends and colleagues for their support. “I can’t thank people enough – it’s made such a big difference,” she said.

“A lot of people struggle because they don’t have that support network on the days you can’t function.

“It’s not the initial diagnosis and getting over the initial problems that’s hardest. Eventually you peak and realise that’s as good as you’re going to get. This is as good as I’m going to be and having to accept that was hard. Before I gave everything to my job and it’s frustrating I can’t be the same.

“I can’t dance any more and I can’t go for a run. It’s not until you begin to get your life back together that all these little bits and pieces become more apparent.

“Sometimes things get to me. I’ve cried for my job and wanting to start a family and that will be a bigger challenge than I had anticipated. Everything has to be considered now.

“I’m not bitter – there’s always someone far worse off. There are young mums in wheelchairs. I’m not in a wheelchair. I can go about my daily life.

“People with MS don’t get better. I’m never going to be better but I’m staying positive. I’m just going to take every day as it comes.”

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by DAILYRECORD
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length


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