Feeling the breeze again and flying free, after years battling multiple sclerosis

By Jade Waddy

Kathleen Evans vividly remembers feeling the Houston breeze on her cheek, hearing the birds chirping and people laughing, while at TIRR Memorial Hermann.

It’s a moment the 61-year-old doesn’t take for granted.

In 1979, at 21 years old, Evans was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic, often disabling, neurological disorder affecting the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves that make up the body’s central nervous system (CNS). Evans did not allow her diagnosis to limit or stop her from becoming a mother to two boys able to home-school her children.

“Around the age of 38, I had to begin using a scooter. However, I had a part-time job and I was still able to cook and clean and take care of my home,” Evans said. “With everything I was doing I began to feel the effects of being increasingly fatigued.” 

Things changed for Evans in 2016 when she became bedridden. For nearly three years, Evans was limited in what she was able to do.

“I felt completely dependent, almost like a bird with its wings nailed down,” Evans said. “It’s truly an indescribable feeling.”

Evans’ physician referred her to Lisa Rose Wenzel, MD, an attending physician at TIRR Memorial Hermann for inpatient rehabilitation, where she would participate in several weeks of physical and occupational therapy to address her complex health issues related to MS, including neuropathic pain and mobility issues.

“I loved her from the start, she just got it and she understood what I was dealing with,” Evans said about her first interaction with Dr. Wenzel.

During her time at TIRR, Evans’ therapists focused their attention to improving Evans’ core strength.

“When they first stated this would be the focus, I didn’t understand. But as time progressed, I got it,” Evans said. “My core is connected to me being able to sit, to talk, and to swallow. It was so important to me improvement.”

“It was so gratifying seeing Mrs. Evans’ transformation during her stay at TIRR as she was able to regain some independence,” Dr. Wenzel said. “She became very social and active, frequently on-the-go. She is a jewel, sweet, charming and motivated and made the ideal patient.”

Wenzel recommended speech therapy for Evans to improve her swallowing, and ultimately, her ability to project her voice.

“I had been bedridden for so long that my voice had become a soft whisper because my core was weak,” Evans said. “For the first time in a long time I felt my core contract in speech therapy.”

During one memorable therapy session, Evans recalls playing catch outside as part of an exercise to work her core muscles. “It was the first time I had been outside in so long to just enjoy myself,” she said. “It felt like I was just born again.”

During Evans’ stay, the TIRR team was able to arrange for her and her husband of 16 years to celebrate their wedding anniversary for the first time in several years.

“She was able to get dressed, wear makeup, and have a romantic dinner with her husband,” Dr. Wenzel said. “We were able to help her feel more like a woman and wife again and that was a rewarding moment for many of us—to give her an opportunity to feel like a woman with a disability and not allow her disability to define who she is.”

“Everyone at TIRR understood me and I’m so thankful for what I learned not just the physical things but also the new attitude to live as normal as I can,” Evans said. “I thank God for TIRR for pulling the nails out of my wings and letting me fly again.”

To learn more about the rehabilitation services at TIRR Memorial Hermann visit http://tirr.memorialhermann.org/

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