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Published April 23, 2013, 11:36 PM

Her Voice: Disease helps Fargo woman prioritize life

FARGO – Sarah DeVries was working out at the gym when she started feeling pain and numbness in her legs. At first it was only when she exercised so she ignored it, thinking she was pushing herself too hard, DeVries, of Fargo, said.

By: Tracy Briggs, INFORUM

If you go

What: Walk MS North Dakota by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Upper Midwest Chapter

Where: Scheels Arena, 5225 31st Ave. S., Fargo

When: Check-in at 8:30 a.m. Saturday; route opens at 10 a.m.

Contact: (800) 582-5296

Online: Register or donate at myMSwalk.org

Her Voice is a weekly article about women in or from our area and how they make an impact on the world around them. If you know someone SheSays should feature in HerVoice, email Tracy Frank at tfrank@forumcomm.com.

FARGO – Sarah DeVries was working out at the gym when she started feeling pain and numbness in her legs.

At first it was only when she exercised so she ignored it, thinking she was pushing herself too hard, DeVries, of Fargo, said.

Then it started happening randomly throughout the day. Then the pain started to increase and she felt it every day.

About six months after she first experienced the pain and numbness, DeVries saw her doctor about it. Four months of testing later, she found out she had multiple sclerosis.

“I was happy that I was able to put a name on it,” she said. “By that time I had wondered for 10 months.”

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that interrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and the body, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis.

Women are more likely than men to get the disease, which affects

2.1 million people worldwide, most of whom are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50.

DeVries was overwhelmed when she first found out she had multiple sclerosis, wondering what would happen and how it would affect her life and her children’s lives, she said.

Her kids, Meghan and Luke, were 13 and 8 years old when she was diagnosed five years ago.

“I explained what it meant, what it was. I told them it wasn’t going to end my life, but it was going to change our life,” she said. “They were very good in understanding that.”

DeVries says she’s been lucky in that the disease hasn’t left her blind or paralyzed, and it hasn’t affected her cognitive abilities.

She still has the numbness and tingling in her legs, but she’s able to manage it with medication. While there’s no cure, medications work to slow the disease’s progression, she said.

“I’m very, very fortunate,” she said. “It’s not painful anymore. When I was first diagnosed, it was very painful. But I’ve made some adjustments in what I do and what I don’t do and now I know what triggers it.”

She can’t run on the treadmill anymore, but she can find other ways to exercise. She still works full time as an auditor but has cut back a bit.

The disease has also helped her prioritize the important things in her life like her family, friends, community, church and work, she said.

“I know I can’t do everything how I used to do it, but I can do everything in a limited amount,” she said. “At first it was difficult, but now I know that I’m just so fortunate to be able to have this chance take a step back and think about what’s important in my life.”

DeVries is also an advocate, committed to raising awareness about the disease, and this year’s ambassador for Walk MS North Dakota.

As ambassador, DeVries gives interviews about MS, encourages people to attend the walk, and answers questions the day of the event.

“I just feel that MS awareness is so important,” she said. “The earlier people can be diagnosed, the sooner they can get on these therapies.”

Walk MS is designed to connect people living with multiple sclerosis and those who care about them, as well as to raise money for new treatments and to provide financial support for people dealing with the disease, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526.

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