I’ve had to learn to walk again three times’
The Standard (Ontario, CA)
October 29, 2011
By Peter Downs
St. Catharines woman says support from United Way improves quality of life for those with MS
Three times Diane Hall has had to re-learn what most people have to learn only once when they are toddlers.
Three times the St. Catharines woman has had her mobility robbed by the debilitating disease she's lived with for more than 17 years.
And three times she's summoned the strength and willpower to put one foot in front of the other again and try to keep a step ahead of multiple sclerosis.
"I've had to learn to walk again three times," Hall said, summing up the bouts of paralysis she's suffered during severe MS attacks.
"Every time you have an episode, it's almost like a grieving session. You grieve what you lost and you hope to regain what you lost."
Hall, 56, was a single mother of a four-year-old son working for the Ontario Federation of Labour in Toronto in 1994 when she first began experiencing symptoms of what would eventually get diagnosed as MS.
It took several months for physicians to figure out why Hall's right side was paralyzed. An initial MRI of her head showed none of the brain lesions that are telltale signs of MS. A full-body MRI later showed she had a rarer form of spinal MS, which affects about one fifth of those who have the disease.
"It was quite a shock to finally get the diagnosis. I'm the first in my family to have the disease," said Hall, who moved back to her hometown of St. Catharines in 1996.
Despite the severe attacks that have left her temporarily paralyzed over the years, Hall said she was determined to recover each time.
"There's some times when it's been pretty tough, but I've always tried to stay positive," said Hall, who is unable to work and lives on disability benefits.
"I say that I'm an active MS-er. I've always felt that if you don't use it, you lose function."
In addition to following a strict exercise regimen, Hall joined the growing number of Canadians with MS who have been heading south of the border for so-called liberation therapy.
The controversial procedure opens up blockages in veins in the neck and head through angioplasty on the theory that many of the symptoms of MS will be lessened.
The treatment is not funded anywhere in Canada currently, which has prompted many MS sufferers to seek treatment in the U.S. and foot the medical bills themselves.
Hall underwent the procedure last spring in California.
"I've seen a noticeable difference," she said. "It addressed a lot of the symptoms, but it's definitely not a cure."
Hall is also a regular at the St. Catharines offices of Niagara Peninsula Chapter of Hope of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, which received a portion of its funding from the United Way of St. Catharines and District.
Hall, who helps lead two of the organization's self-help support groups, said the United Way's financial assistance is invaluable.
"These types of agencies make all the difference in the quality of life we enjoy."
Hall said she was a long-time supporter of the United Way during her former job, but didn't previously understand the breadth of its support until she required help herself.
"It's vital we all give," she said.
"You never think of it when you're healthy and your life is full with work and family, but then suddenly it hits you."