By: BEN BENTON Staff Writer
Source: The Daily Post-Athenian
When the diagnosis came that what had caused her pain in her neck and head last September was multiple sclerosis, it was something of a relief.
MS Mother of the Year Amy Smith, a lifelong resident of Etowah, didn’t know exactly what MS was, but she knew what it wasn’t.
It wasn’t a brain tumor or spinal meningitis; it wasn’t Lou Gehrig's disease or a brain infection.
It was MS.
The disease struck Smith the week after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington in what medical professionals call an exacerbation.
An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) procedure was performed along with a spinal tap. All the data from the tests were sent for diagnosis, Smith said.
“When I was diagnosed, it was kind of a relief because the options that I had were worse,” she said, ticking off the list of diseases it wasn’t.
“The first thing they wanted to do was rule those kinds of things out,” Smith said.
While she avoided a diagnosis of those diseases, she was worried about the complications of having MS.
“I didn’t want to be in a wheelchair. That’s what everybody fears; they don’t want to be in a wheelchair,” she said.
Her jovial demeanor doesn’t reveal the fact that Smith takes on a chronic, often disabling, disease every waking hour of the day.
Smith said there are four types of MS: remitting/relapsing, secondary progressive, primary progressive and chronic progressive.
“I have remitting/relapsing,” she volunteered. “That’s what everybody with MS gets first. That means you have an attack but you get better.”
Smith said when she had her attack last September the pain was excruciating.
“I just couldn’t function,” she remembered. “It was just indescribable pain. I went to the emergency room three days in a row.”
Smith said her physician gave her a course of steroids and an anti-inflammatory drug to treat the symptoms.
“I didn’t know it at the time but that’s what they give for MS,” she said. “And I got better.”
Meanwhile, the results of an MRI predicated a visit to another physician at Park West Hospital in Knoxville where the diagnosis was confirmed.
“MS has some gradual symptoms,” she said. “I had some tingling in the extremities. I would do some exercising, some walking or something, and noticed numbness in my legs after about a half mile.”
The feeling would go away after just a few seconds of rest, she said.
Smith said she passed off those early symptoms as “something else” and because there had been no pain associated with the strange sensations, she “didn’t think anything about it.”
When the attack came, Smith said it was probably the best thing that could’ve happened to her.
“If I hadn’t had the attack, I probably still wouldn’t know what was wrong with me,” she said.
Now she does and she said it’s a struggle some days just to keep up.
Smith, who has an adult daughter, Melanie Walker, an adult stepson, Eric Smith, and a husband, Patrick, balanced her family life with her debilitating disease, buoyed on her strong will and refusal to submit to MS.
After her diagnosis, Smith continued to work at her job as bookkeeper at McKee Tire where she has worked for the last 19 years, and as secretary for state Rep. Bob McKee for the past 12 years.
Smith also keeps a busy schedule — by her own doing, she admits — with her 7-year-old grandson, Alex. She also cares for her elderly mother and mother-in-law.
Smith’s enthusiasm and will to fight the disease led to her recognition June 3 as McMinn County’s MS Mother of the Year during a ceremony at Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga where an awards banquet was held to honor the area’s MS sufferers. Smith was nominated by a fellow MS patient.
The award is given by the National MS Society.
Even during the interview Smith was juggling phone calls, work orders, invoices and customers, taking a moment here and there to talk quickly with the men in the tire store about what was being done next.
In the world of MS, Smith said the best thing MS patients can do is fight the disease with every available weapon.
In years past, the only medication for the treatment of MS was simply for symptoms, she said.
According to Smith, medications are available, since 1993, that inhibit the disease’s progress.
“This disease makes you want to go home and go to bed,” she said. “The fatigue is mind-numbing. That and the depression. It’s depressing to have a disabling disease and the side-effect of the drugs is depression.”
Smith said her spiritual strength and religious conviction have had an immeasurable effect on her attitude toward MS.
“I just thank God every day that I can walk,” she said.
Smith said she wishes everyone would take any MS-like symptoms seriously enough to take their concerns to their doctor.
Although there is no cure for MS, there is hope for MS patients in new treatment drugs, Smith said.
The new medications, called “A-B-C” drugs, are Avonex, Betaseron and Copaxone, she said.
The drugs can reduce future disability and improve life for MS patients, according to an opinion issued by the MS Society’s Medical Advisory Board.
“The users of all three have fewer relapses (or attacks), use steroids less often and spend fewer days in hospitals,” the opinion stated.
Smith said the medication she’s now using is Betaseron.
Betaseron and Avonex limit development of lesions within the central nervous system which is what causes some of the symptoms of the disease.
Smith said Betaseron is the most potent of the interferon drugs and she has to inject the drug by hypodermic needle every other day.
“The drug has a lot of side-effects. MS has a lot of symptoms and when you combine that with the drug’s side-effects you feel bad a lot,” said Smith.
Heading off complications and advancement of the disease is worth the nausea, depression and fatigue that comes with the medication, she said.
She did note, however, the side-effects become less noticeable over time.
“The other problem is it’s very expensive,” Smith said, “about $1,000 a month. But most insurance companies cover it.”
Smith said the long-term benefits of keeping the progression of MS at bay are well worth the trouble and expense of treatment.
“Anyone who thinks they have MS or know they have MS, they still need to get on one of these ABC drugs,” Smith advised. “It can’t reverse it but it can keep it from getting worse.”
Smith said MS sufferers “need to be aggressive” and take opportunities to stop the disease in its tracks, if possible.
Smith has made an example of herself in battling MS, a busy schedule and stumping in support of her fellow MS patients.
“I know I will have another attack. It won’t go away,” she said.
By being aggressive, Smith said, “I get a little better every day.”
Smith said she sometimes finds it hard to stay motivated.
“I’m not going to let this disease beat me,” she said. “I don’t want to give up anything. I may have to put things off, but the next day I’ll catch up.”
“It’s depressing but I try not to dwell on it. When there’s a 7-year-old around you don’t get much time to sit down,” she laughed.
“You know, I felt terrible yesterday but I feel good today,” she said with a smile.
It’s those good days that become precious, according to Smith, the bad
ones are better left behind where they are only reminders to treasure the
© 2002 East Tennessee Network