“I have MS, but MS doesn’t have me.”
Thirty-three-year-old Andrea ‘Speedie’ Hampton shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon, despite her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS). Her passion has always been sports, and this driven, competitive woman was, and continues to be, active in many sports.
Speedie has found creative ways to adapt her play and to work around her limitations. “My diagnosis was frustrating because I was used to being a star, and I had to learn how to play differently and to work the sports chairs.”
Her journey began in May 2011, when she was 26. “I was noticing a lot of pain and stiffness in my legs, and it was hard for me to walk for a long distance. My family noticed I was limping while walking.”
That’s when she sought care at Mercy Health Hauenstein Neurosciences and met Herman Sullivan, MD, interim medical director of Hauenstein Neuroscience Center Multiple Sclerosis Clinic.
“MS is a neuro-immunological disease that results in inflammatory injury to parts of the brain, and sometimes the spinal cord and optic nerve,” explained Sullivan. “Symptoms depend on where the injury is. Injuries are not always permanent, so the symptoms can disappear completely.”
Patients with MS can present with motor symptoms, sensory symptoms, balance issues, and changes in cognition, mood and behavior.
Initially, Speedie had little knowledge of the disease. “Mercy Health has clinics that are very helpful. I wasn’t sure what having MS meant. The team at the clinics helped me to learn about MS, how it would affect my body, and about the medications and side effects. It was a blow to find out that it is a disease that will stick with me for the rest of my life.”
Adjustments came in other ways too. “When I was first diagnosed, I was trying to figure out why this was happening to me. I had to truly rely on my faith and remember that GOD gives you things to make you stronger.”
Stronger, indeed. Undaunted by MS, Speedie shared a list of her many activities during the past year: wheelchair softball, wheelchair lacrosse, wheelchair fencing, wheelchair ballroom dancing, sled hockey, skydiving, rock climbing and kayaking. “During the school year I am the assistant girls’ varsity basketball coach at East Grand Rapids.”
Diagnosing MS can be difficult, Sullivan explained. “Some people who have MS have no symptoms. It’s not uncommon to diagnose MS before a patient shows symptoms because the patient has testing for another symptom, like a headache. So, when a patient gets a diagnosis of MS, there can be huge emotional angst. I try to show patients the larger picture, that a diagnosis does not automatically mean there will be neurological deficits. And if there are, we have medications to impact the symptoms of the disease.”
Since the early to mid-’90s, a variety of treatments have become available. Initially, the medications had to be injected; now some drugs are infused or taken orally. There are 17 different drugs for relapsing-remitting MS, a type of MS in which the symptoms come and go. At this time, there is also one approved drug for progressive MS.
The MS Clinic at Mercy Health’s Hauenstein Neuroscience Center uses a multidisciplinary, team approach consisting of neurologists, neuro-ophthalmologists, physical therapists, a nurse psychologist, nurse practitioners, occupational therapists, medical social workers and physiatrists. Mercy Health sponsors a support group for MS patients as well.
“Andrea is a dynamic, multi-talented athlete. MS has affected her ability to compete, but her attitude makes all the difference. Her loving, supportive family and network of friends are neurologically nourishing for her. She is one of the great inspirations in my life,” shared Sullivan.
Speedie attributes her positive attitude to her parents and to the people she hangs out with. “Their support means a lot to me. You can’t let a diagnosis of MS be your downfall.”
Today, Speedie says she is “feeling fine. Mercy Health has been awesome. The medications I am taking are helping me. I wake up every morning with a smile on my face and thank God for another day.”
There is hope for the future, according to Sullivan. “Many neurological diseases will be cured when we learn to bioengineer parts of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerve. The ability to regenerate and regrow neuropathways is what we are hoping to do.”
“I feel that eventually there will be a cure for MS,” said Speedie. “That’s something that I can’t wait to have happen, but at this point, I have to live in the now.”