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Walk with MeChris Hartlove

Walk with Me

After decades, I'm back on my own two feet. I feel joy—and a faint electric sting.

“Let’s take a walk.”

Brian Murray, my physical therapist, had made a few last adjustments to the technology banded about my knee and then I took a step. And then another.

It was a February morning in 2010 when we embarked on our trek from the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Johns Hopkins Hospital, down the hallway and then left past the cafeteria. “This is going to take time to build up your strength and build up your muscles,” he counseled. We stopped a few times as Brian made some more adjustments. My legs were tense. My shoulders were tight. I hadn’t been upright like this in many years. I was winded, but I kept moving.

You’ve got to make this work, Sheila, I told myself.

Those slow steps in the hospital were little miracles. In some ways, I began that walk almost 30 years ago on North Broadway, just west of the School. In 1981, I was a PhD student in Environmental Health Sciences. I had a husband, a seven-year-old daughter, a master’s in nursing, a dozen years of teaching and work experience and an enthralling challenge studying individuals with cardiovascular disease returning to work.

I started noticing that the late afternoon walk to my car parked on Broadway taxed me more than it should have. I had problems with balance. A heaviness in my right leg made me unsteady. The doctor confirmed something was wrong.

Multiple sclerosis. The autoimmune disease destroys the myelin sheath protecting nerve cells in selected parts of the neuromuscular system. I was 35 years old, in the first year of my PhD, and I thought the world was going to end.

It didn’t. My husband, Bill, was very supportive and told me there was no reason to stop studying. Life was pretty good for five years. I continued my studies, completed my degree and then joined the faculty. Eventually, my endurance decreased. A full-time job, a long commute and maintaining my family life became increasingly challenging. Walking for any distance became difficult. Trips to the grocery store required exquisite planning or else I would have to find a place to sit and rest. Recouping my energies became a big part of my day. Eventually, I purchased a scooter and a minivan with a mechanical lift. I could navigate the halls of the School and zip over to the nursing building to teach a class. (I had a reputation for driving full-tilt. I never got a ticket, but I once almost ran over former Dean Al Sommer.)


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  • Janice Bowie

    Hampton House 03/26/2012 12:00:48 PM

    What a wonderful and inspiring story. I've known Sheila for years and was moved last year when she was able to participate in the School's Convocation. We all cheered when she walked on the stage for the first time to sit among her colleagues. She truly rocks!

  • Marian Grant

    UMB SON 03/28/2012 02:17:11 PM

    I'm a former student of Sheila's and delighted to read about this for her and other people living with MS. Keep up the good work to all involved!

  • Onalenna Seitio-Kgokgwe

    Botswana 05/05/2012 02:57:16 PM

    I was a master of nursing student in JHU SON in 1995/1996. I met Sheila many times on her scooter along the corridors. I am just thrilled to read her story. What a miracle! My cousin is paraplegic from road traffic accident-I hope one day the device/technology will be a public health solution so that people like her can also benefit. All the best Sheila. May the Good Lord continue to bless you

  • Sylvia Williams

    Destin Florida 10/23/2012 12:38:29 PM

    Inspirational, encouraging and hopeful for anyone with health challenges, especially MS. Sheila, your story should make us all want to try harder and reach higher! Great job!

  • Kathleen Innes

    Maryland 03/12/2013 02:04:10 PM

    I met Sheila last month in the grocery store. She was kind enough to ask if I needed help with something because I am in a scooter also with MS. She explained the Bioness to us and I now have an appt to see Brian Murray next week. Thanks so much Sheila for sharing your story.

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Sheila Fitzgerald

Sheila Fitzgerald

Multiple sclerosis kept her in a scooter for 20 years, but Sheila Fitzgerald now walks on her own—with a little technological help.

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