November 11, 2003
The Daily Post-Athenian
Kathy Johnston doesn’t seem to think there’s anything all that remarkable about her … but other people beg to differ, especially those who named her as 2003 McMinn County MS Mother of the Year.
In fact, last year’s McMinn County MS Mother of the Year, Amy Smith, nominated Kathy for the honor.
Kathy said her children took her to the awards ceremony in Chattanooga. “All four children came in,” she said. “It was nice.”
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Web site – www.nmss.org – MS is thought to be an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS consists of the brain, spinal cord, and the optic nerves. Surrounding and protecting the nerve fibers of the CNS is a fatty tissue called myelin, which helps nerve fibers conduct electrical impulses.
In MS, myelin is lost in multiple areas, leaving scar tissue called sclerosis. These damaged areas are also known as plaques or lesions. Sometimes the nerve fiber itself is damaged or broken. Myelin not only protects nerve fibers, but makes their job possible. When myelin or the nerve fiber is destroyed or damaged, the ability of the nerves to conduct electrical impulses to and from the brain is disrupted, and this produces the various symptoms of MS.
People with MS can expect one of four clinical courses of disease, each of which might be mild, moderate, or severe.
• Relapsing-remitting characteristics, which account for 85 percent of initial MS diagnoses.
• Primary-progressive characteristics.
• Secondary-progressive characteristics.
• Progressive-relapsing characteristics.
Kathy was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS in July 1998 after visiting doctors in Knoxville for MRIs and a lumbar puncture.
“After that was done they decided I was a good candidate for the betaseron shot therapy,” she said, adding she started receiving the shots in October 1998.
Betaseron is a medication manufactured by a biotechnological process from one of the naturally occurring interferons (a type of protein). In a clinical trial of 372 ambulatory patients with relapsing-remitting MS, those taking the currently recommended dose of the medication experienced fewer exacerbations, a longer time between exacerbations, and exacerbations that were generally less severe than those of patients taking a lower dose of the medication or a placebo.
Kathy said a nurse taught her how to administer her own shots every other day in one of several injection sites on the arms, legs and torso.
“You alternate your injection sites,” she said.
“When I started it took me about five months to get to where I wasn’t running a high temperature the day after,” she said, adding she considered giving up because the medicine didn’t seem like it helped.
Kathy said her daughter Pam , a teacher in North Carolina, called her to tell the story of a fellow teacher who was on the betaseron shot therapy for nine months and thought about giving up until it began working for her. Inspired by the story, Kathy took the shots for seven months before she began seeing benefits of the therapy.
“I was about to give up, but I didn’t,” Kathy said.
Kathy said the neurologist who diagnosed her MS told her she had been living with MS for several years but it was not identified even though she had been to several doctors with her symptoms of pain, dizziness, loss of balance and fatigue.
“Multiple sclerosis affects different people different ways,” she said, adding it can affect your thinking and balance, you can experience surges of pain, and your limbs “give out” as you’re walking.
Kathy said her first attack of MS was in the 1980s – in 1981 she lost vision in one eye.
“Now they know that in at least 15 percent of people that is the first symptom of multiple sclerosis,” Kathy said, adding She was treated for six weeks with the steroid Prednisone and got her vision back.
Kathy would have tried to live with the effects, undiagnosed and unassisted by medication, but, “I was prodded to go (to a neurologist) by my siblings,” she said.
Since Kathy’s diagnosis, a sibling suspects she has MS.
“They say it’s not hereditary but you have a predisposition to it if someone in your family has it,” Kathy said, adding she has two second cousins who are wheelchair-bound because of MS. “It leaves the question if there is more of a genetic link.”
One of 11 children born to Marie and the late Robert Webb of Athens, Kathy has three daughters, one son, and all their spouses, Nancy and Dale; Pam and Brian; Sherman and Kim; and Karen and Jon. She also has four grandchildren, Justin, Austin, Janzen and Brianna. Kathy said her grandsons bring their toy trains to her home to show how they play and Brianna “just likes to be cuddled.”
Kathy attends Lakeview Baptist Church “as frequently as I can,” which is more often in the warmer months.
“I enjoy the time that my family spends with me,” Kathy said.
Kathy said when a person is diagnosed with MS it is important to get on a therapy as early as possible to keep nerve damage at a standstill.
“It lies dormant and you never know when it may come up,” Kathy said. “I’ts frustrating because I never know when it’s going to happen … you hope for the best and plan for the worst.”
Kathy added she never knows when she will need help to do laundry or go to the store.
She does try to make the everyday aspects of life easier by using paper plates and cups as well as plastic utensils, so she doesn’t have to wash dishes.
“You do anything to keep your fatigue level down,” Kathy said, adding her personality is to push herself to complete tasks. “I have learned not to push myself like I used to.”
Kathy tries not to worry about what she can’t do anymore, but said, “I miss my past life (but) you just have to deal with it the best you can at the time.”
The local MS support group meets the first Thursday of every month at
Woods Memorial Hospital, and there is usually a speaker.
Copyright © 2003, East Tennessee Network