Wednesday, August 1, 2001
Story last updated at 10:59 p.m. on Tuesday, July 31, 2001
By Alliniece T. Andino
Times-Union staff writer
She once worked with others who had disabilities.
Now, she needs aid to walk. Her right leg bends, but her left leg remains stiff in a plastic brace as she hobbles with a walker.
But yesterday, Janis Hollenback of Jacksonville drove home for the first time in a new customized van. The van, which she bought with the help of her family, will bring her greater freedom.
"I've had butterflies," said the 50-year-old mother of two.
Hollenback, a retired speech and language pathologist, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1981. The disease began to seriously diminish her mobility about 15 years later.
She coped with the disease. She married, had two children and continued working as a speech and language pathologist at Cathedral Rehabilitation Hospital. The hospital changed names various times and is now Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital.
A former colleague, Charles Schauer, who is now president of Brooks Rehabilitation, described Hollenback as a positive and energetic person who tried not to let her physical challenges affect her work.
"She was someone who certainly would not linger on that [limitation] or bring it up as an excuse," Schauer said. "She balanced professional life and personal life as a manager, mother, spouse. She was always juggling those difficult challenges and doing it well."
Hollenback worked at the hospital for 14 years, until 1996.
"I just always wanted to help people," she said of her job.
One day, her co-workers, who were physical therapists, observed her limping at work. Hollenback revealed she had MS and sought therapy.
"I was real fatigued all the time," Hollenback recalled. "I started using a scooter there because I didn't have the energy to walk to the cafeteria for lunch. Towards the end, I almost passed out."
She took medical leave and eventually retired.
"I just didn't realize until I was home during that time how sick I was," Hollenback said.
Schauer said Hollenback's job probably helped prepare her for a life with MS, as it exposed her to what she would face.
Hollenback now volunteers as a peer counselor for the Multiple Sclerosis Society and reads to children.
As her energy level declines with the disease's progression, Hollenback said the new van will make it easier to drive to schools where she reads to children.
"I can't think of anything more therapeutic than helping someone else," she said.
Handicapped Driver Services Inc. installed an electronic hand lever in the van to control the gasoline and brake. A small knob attached to the steering wheel reduces the effort it takes to drive.