Multiple Sclerosis Doesn’t Stop Kayla Montgomery From Running

18-year-old Kayla Montgomery used to be the slowest runner on her high school track team. Now, not only is she the fastest on the team, she’s one of the country’s fastest young distance runners.  What motivated her to become so good?

Being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis! Kayla was diagnosed three years ago when she fell while playing soccer. Her legs felt numb and she felt shock waves going up her spine. An MRI scan revealed 6 lesions consistent with multiple sclerosis (MS) in her brain and spine. With treatment, she went into remission and resumed running, telling her coach, Patrick Cromwell:

“When she was diagnosed, she said to me, ‘Coach, I don’t know how much time I have left, so I want to run fast — don’t hold back. ‘”

In some ways, MS may give her a little bit of an edge- her legs become numb after running for a period of time, so she doesn’t feel the pain that many runners experience. She told Today’s Natalie Morales:

“I don’t feel anything at all. It kind of feels like I’m just kind of floating. There’s nothing underneath me.”

But her neurologist, Dr. Lucie Lauve believes that “If any benefit is to be gained by her disease, it’s a mental edge, not a physical edge.”

And although Kayla is fine while she is running,  when she stops, her legs buckle underneath her, and she has to be caught by her coach at the end of every race. At one 5000-meter race, officials forgot to catch her and she collapsed face first onto the track and had to lay there until someone came to lift her up.

Kayla plans to attend the national indoor track championships in New York later this month and she is headed to Lipscomb University in Tennessee this fall.

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that affects the central nervous system. It is thought to be an autoimmune disease.

The fatty substance (myelin) that surrounds and protects the nerve fibers in the central nervous system is attacked by a patient’s own immune system damaging them and forming scar tissue (sclerosis).

This can happen in multiple locations in the brain or along the spinal cord, which explains the name multiple sclerosis.

The scar tissue causes nerve impulses traveling anywhere to or from the brain and spinal cord to be disrupted, resulting in a person displaying symptoms.

Since these symptoms are not specific to MS, and may wax and wane over time in any patient, it is often difficult to make the diagnosis.

What are the Symptoms of MS?

Most people experience their first symptoms of MS between the ages of 20 and 40.

  • The initial symptom of MS is often blurred or double vision, red-green color distortion, or even blindness in one eye.
  • Most MS patients experience muscle weakness in their extremities and difficulty with coordination and balance.  These symptoms may be severe enough to impair walking or even standing.
  • In the worst cases, MS can produce partial or complete paralysis.
  • Most people with MS also exhibit paresthesias– temporary abnormal sensory feelings such as numbness, prickling, or “pins and needles” sensations.  Some may also experience pain.
  • Speech impediments, tremors, and dizziness are other frequent complaints.
  • Occasionally, people with MS have hearing loss.
  • Approximately half of all people with MS experience cognitive impairments such as difficulties with concentration, attention, memory, and poor judgment, but such symptoms are usually mild and are frequently overlooked.  Depression is another common feature of MS.

The most common course of the disease is the relapsing-remitting type, which is characterized by unpredictable attacks (relapses) followed by periods of relative remission with no new signs of disease activity.

After some years, many of the people who have this subtype begin to experience neurological decline without acute relapses. When this happens it is called secondary progressive multiple sclerosis.

How is MS treated?

There is currently no cure for multiple sclerosis, however there are currently eight disease-modifying medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in relapsing forms of MS.

Disease modifying medications have been shown to:

  • Reduce the frequency and severity of clinical attacks (also called relapses or exacerbations)
  • Reduce the accumulation of lesions(damaged or active disease areas) within the brain and spinal cord
  • Appear to slow down the accumulation of disability

As many of these medications may have side-effects associated with them, the decision to use them must be made between a patient and their physician.

You can learn more specifics about these drugs in an excellent brochure by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society by clicking here.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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