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Diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis as a Teen: Hannah’s Story

Faced with an MS diagnosis at 16, Hannah works with her team of neurologists at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to manage her disease and stay physically active.

Hannah loves to work out — rowing is her favorite activity. So, when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last year, she was afraid her fitness days were over. But with medication and care from the Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis and Neuroinflammatory Disorders Clinic at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), Hannah is back in the gym and ready for whatever comes her way.

A persistent numbness

On a warm spring day last year, Hannah went for a long run. The effort left her winded and her legs tingly. Hannah, now 17, brushed it off, figuring her muscles were fatigued. But when the “pins and needles” sensation persisted over the next few days, she brought it up to some friends at school. They urged her to tell her parents. One even mentioned multiple sclerosis (MS).

“I Googled it and thought, there’s no way I have that. I can’t have a chronic illness,” Hannah remembers. She let a few more days pass before finally telling her parents. By then, Hannah couldn’t feel the bottom of one foot and was afraid her legs would give out. Her mother, Melissa, was alarmed. Hannah isn’t the type to complain, so she knew the numbness was serious enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room.

They drove to their local hospital, where bloodwork showed nothing unusual. The family was sent home with the recommendation that they follow up with Hannah’s pediatrician.

The diagnosis of multiple sclerosis

Hannah was examined by a nurse practitioner in her pediatrics practice, who thought Hannah might have injured a muscle while running, and recommended physical therapy to strengthen the muscles. Spring softball was about to start and Hannah agreed that PT would help her get ready for the season.

When Hannah arrived for her first PT appointment, the physical therapist suggested getting an MRI image of Hannah’s lower spine. This was followed by upper spine imaging, and a return for a third MRI, this time of her brain. With the results in, the pediatrician met with the family and told them that the scans revealed lesions on Hannah’s spine and her brain. The doctor recommended Hannah see a pediatric neurologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

“I thought she’d just sprained something or stretched something out too much and would heal from it,” Melissa remembers. “Never in a million years did I think it would be MS. It never crossed my mind. Ever.”

Read on: Diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis as a Teen: Hannah's Story

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