Ever since she was little, Rachael has been active. From riding her horse, Sierra, to performing at football games with her high school band, Rachael’s known by her friends and family for her infectious energy and on-the-go lifestyle.
I think I first noticed that something was wrong when I just didn’t want to go out and do the things that I once loved to do. I didn’t want to ride my horse and I didn’t want to go for hikes or hang out with friends, and I got to thinking, ‘Why am I so tired?
Over the next three years, Rachael saw several doctors for many symptoms. When she told her primary doctor about the numbness on the side of her body, they said it was the flu. When she saw her eye doctor for blurry spots in her vision, they said her prescription was expired. When Rachael talked about having low energy and being tired all the time, they said she was depressed. But Rachael knew her body and knew there was something more going on.
For a while I believed that it was all in my head and I was just overthinking things. Maybe I really could swallow right and maybe my doctor was right. My bloodwork was fine and all my tests came back fine. But I know my body, and I knew there wasn’t something right. I just needed to figure out what it was.
Rachael was starting to lose hope, until her neurologist spotted an abnormality in her brain MRI and recommended she visit Dr. Williamson, a neurologist at the Penn MS Center.
When Rachael came to us, she was frustrated because she was having a variety of symptoms that she couldn’t explain. She had issues with her vision, issues with swallowing, fatigue, and sensory disturbance. The first thing that we do is listen. Patients tell us what they’re feeling and that helps us understand what might be causing the symptoms.
Dr. Williamson gave Rachael something no other doctor could: an answer. He was the only one to put all the pieces together and diagnose Rachael with multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disease affecting the central nervous system (the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves).
I was starting to lose hope, until I found Penn.
After three years of doctors telling me it was all in my head, I finally had a doctor listen to me and tell me that I wasn’t crazy. He said that I had MS, but we were going to figure out what was next and I was going to get answers.
Together, Rachael and her Penn MS team created a plan.
At Penn Medicine, we take a multidisciplinary approach. We not only have a team of clinicians, nursing staff, administrative staff, but also dedicated pharmacists, and social workers. We rely on departments like physical therapy, radiology, and urology for things that can come up and be part of this disease, and we work hand in hand to help a patient with all aspects of multiple sclerosis.
At the Penn MS Center, the team collaborates with experts across multiple disciplines to provide diagnosis, care and management of MS and associated disorders. Penn also works with the National MS Society and Multiple Sclerosis Association of America to assure the highest level of care for patients like Rachael.
Today, Rachael has hope for the future.
Thanks to Penn, I have the medication I need, the courage to continue, and the comfort of knowing that I have the support for the rest of my life.
I've been riding my horse more now than before my diagnosis because a part of me wants to prove it wrong and say, ‘You know what, I’m not going to let MS define me.’ I have my team, I have my family, and I have Penn.