Making the best of life with MS
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade—which is what Stephanie Zimmerman did when she found out she had Multiple Sclerosis.
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary from one person to another. Today, new treatments and advances in research are giving new hope to people affected by the disease, according to the National Mutliple Sclerosis Society.
After graduating from LIttle Cypress-Mauriceville High School, Zimmerman attended Lamar Port Arthur to get her basic education and where she played softball. She later attended Lamar Institute of Technology and received a degree and licensure to practice dental hygiene.
In August 2008, Zimmerman was 21 years old and had just finished her summer classes and was a couple of weeks away from starting her second year in dental hygiene school when she first discovered something was terribly wrong.
“That night when I stood up to go to bed I felt as if my diaphragm had fallen asleep and was kind of tingling, “she said. “I thought I had just been sitting in the same position for a while so I shrugged it off and went to bed.”
Within three days the feeling had taken over her body and she was tingling and numb from her neck down.
She went to her family physician and the blood work came back normal. Knowing this was not normal, she was referred to a neurologist in Houston where she had an MRI done. The MRI results showed a large lesion on her neck and four to five small lesions in her brain. Lesions are when the body’s immune system attacks the myelin and causes a scar in that area.
Her neurologist wanted to do more testing to make the correct diagnosis since there is not a definitive test for MS. Doctors search for the trends in the test results for indications of the disease. Zimmerman’s symptoms along with the lesions indicated she had MS, but he wanted to rule out a few things before diagnosing her with such a major disease and starting her on treatment for the rest of her life. The other possibilities were lupus or transverse myelitis which is a one time “attack” or occurrence.
Further testing was needed and a spinal tap was done which confirmed the oligocoalonal bands in her spinal fluid, which is an indicator of multiple sclerosis. However, the doctor still wanted to hold off on the diagnosis until she saw the neurologist a month later. In September she had another MRI which showed nothing new. Finally, in October, she had the answers to the questions which had plagued her since it all began. She had another MRI done and the results showed new lesions and confirmed the diagnosis of MS.
“My first thought was, okay… I can do this,” Zimmerman said. “I was still scared and it took me a few months to really wrap my head around the diagnosis and for it to sink in.”
Zimmerman did not let this diagnosis stop her from having a life. She graduated from LIT in 2009 and moved to Dallas where she works as a registered dental hygienist.
Life goes on, but she has learned to listen to her body and be prepared. During the hotter months, dealing with the disease is a daily issue.
“Otherwise it comes and goes , but as long as I listen to my body and I don’t push myself too hard, I can manage it well,” she said.
Zimmerman’s main issue is when she gets too hot her body will shut down on her, but once she cools off she usually bounces back.
“Sometimes when I get hot or I walk too quickly or too far and sometimes when I’m just sitting still my body can start to tingle,” she added.
Zimmerman does have some issues with my equilibrium and fast movements throw her “for a loop.” An example of this is when she is working out or something along those lines. She also has bouts of fatigue occasionally, but it is usually associated with the warmer weather.
As a parent, her mother, Shirley Zimmerman, faces her own challenges in dealing with her daughter’s MS.
“Parents always want to fix the things that affect our children but this is one of those things that you just can’t fix,” Shirley said. “Stephanie has been responsible for making her own medical decisions from the beginning which has probably been the biggest challenge for me. Stephanie was always a very happy and healthy little girl, the diagnosis of something that is expected to affect her for the rest of her life was never imagined. We continue to take one step at a time trusting God to help us deal with this.”
Together, the duo works to raise awareness of MS by putting a face on it. They also participate in an annual 5K walk in Dallas to help raise money.
Walk MS and Ride MS connects people living with MS and those who care about them. When people participate in these community events, the funds raised gives hope to the more than 2.1 million people living with MS worldwide. Walks have been conducted since 1988 and to date have raised more than $770 million to support life changing programs and cutting-edge research, according to the National MS Society.
“Sometimes, as in Stephanie’s case, people around you may have been diagnosed yet only those closest to them are aware of it however many people already know someone who has been affected by it.” Shirley Zimmerman said. “The medical professionals really have no understanding of how to stop MS, so it important to help in the raising of funds for research. and we would love to see the breakthroughs to cure MS and to help those living with it.”
Behind them is a large group of friends and family lovingly referred to as the Z-Team who have joined together for the annual walk in Dallas.
The number of people on the team has continued to grow since it began with 21 members. Now, in the fourth year, the team has grown to include 38 people which doesn’t include the two dogs who joined them during an especially chilly walk.
“We set a goal and strive to raise funds to put toward the research to find a cure MS and increase awareness,” said Stephanie Zimmerman.
They hope to promote awareness as they raise funds which will help fund research and find a cure but also help those living with MS and are in need of assistance.
“Some people think those with MS are in a wheelchair, but that isn’t always the case,” Stephanie Zimmerman said.
Stephanie Zimmerman also promotes awareness on Facebook. She posts things on her page about MS. She also thinks it is a great way to encourage people to participate in the MS walk as a “walker, donator or virtual walker.”
In the mean time, she pretty much leads a normal life. But, still there are days when she needs to rest due to fatigue.
“For the most part, everything is good,” Stephanie Zimmerman said. “Many people that find out I was diagnosed with MS can’t believe it because I am doing so well.”
Her long term goals may be different from some, but Stephanie plans to stay positive and continue to take care of her body.
“Now that I am living a pretty healthy lifestyle it has made a world of difference, “ she said. “My body works with me, not against me any longer.”
They invite everyone to come and enjoy the ragball tournament in honor of Stephanie Zimmerman, on June 15 for a good cause, but also for a whole lot of fun, food and good times.
Stephanie and Shirley Zimmerman participate in an annual 5K walk in Dallas to raise money and promote awareness for Multiple Sclerosis.