Never an Easy Season with MS

By: Matt Cavallo

I was really excited. My allergies were horrible and I was feeling absolutely miserable. Why does this excite me you ask? When I feel horrible, I get inspired to write and was going to write a piece on allergies and MS as a follow-up to last year’s, Is There a Relationship between MS, Allergies and Histamine blog.

Then, this happened to my local weather in Arizona:

matt blog

Out here in Arizona, we say that three straight days over 100 degrees kills all the pollen. I don’t know if this is true or not, but my allergies certainly haven’t been bothering me since it got into the 100’s at about Friday of last week.

But guess what? The heat has been killing me!

Luckily, I got a Kool-Max cooling vest, similar to those in the MSAA’s Cooling Program. Now, even in the dog-days of summer, I can still participate in activities or chores and not feel trapped inside by the summer heat.

This got me to thinking, is there ever a perfect season to have MS? We all know that the summer heat, no matter where you live, is not good for MS. The symptoms of heat exposure can cause a pseudoexacerbation, or brief episode of neurological symptoms not classified as a relapse. These pseudoexacerbations can come and go all summer long as the heat and humidity persist.

However, during the cold dark of winter, us MSers yearn for a hot summer day. The low light of winter is not generally considered good for people with a Vitamin D deficiency, as most of us living with MS may experience. Winter also presents trip hazards with ice and snowy conditions, so those of us more prone to falls have a harder time getting outdoors and staying active during the winter.

Fall presents many of the same trip hazards. As soon as the leaves turn colors, they drop to the ground and become slippery to walk on. Fall also has dramatic temperature fluctuations where it can be summer hot one day and then brutally cold the next. This is where cold and flu season start to come into play along with the pseudoexacerbation possibility from those really gorgeous summer-like fall days.

That leaves spring as the only possibility for an easy season living with MS, am I right? Wrong. Spring is the reason I started writing this blog. It was nice this year, but the pollen kept me from enjoying it. I could not differentiate from an MS day or a sick-with-allergy day. The inability to breathe really caused excess fatigue rendering me unable to discern the difference between allergies and MS symptoms.

The truth is there is no easy season when you live with multiple sclerosis. However, each day is what you make of it. Don’t let the changing seasons stop you from living your life, rather adapt with the seasons and plan accordingly. Wear sunscreen, stay cool and don’t let MS stop you from having the best summer ever!

*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/

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Summer Planning and Travel Resources: An MSAA Blog Re-cap

As planning begins for summer vacations or trips, many are left searching or wondering what resources may be available to help with planning. MSAA guest bloggers Matt Cavallo and Jeri Burtchell have written over the years to provide some helpful tips for the travelling MS community.

In Air Travel Tips for the MS Community; Matt, a seasoned traveler, provides his Five Steps to Stress-Free Air Travel for People Living with MS. Matt writes, “Travel is stressful for everyone. Airports are big, busy and fast-paced. Security lines can be long and the thought of standing, unpacking, and repacking at TSA is enough to unravel even the most seasoned traveler”.

Often times the smaller details are those which are overlooked when planning a trip. Those small details such as the size of your carry-on, or the snacks packed in your bag can often make or break a trip. In Jeri’s Summer Travel Tips for Flying with MS Part 1 and Part 2, she identifies some of those smaller details that should be thought of ahead of time in order for smooth sailing….or flying in that matter.

We often learn through the experiences of others. Please share your flying or travel tips in the comments below.

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Worth Fighting For

By: Matt Cavallo

There was a touching moment at my last neurology appointment. You see, I have been with my same neurologist since moving to Arizona in 2009. Throughout the years, he has been by my side through good and bad times. This time was different. He seemed less like my neurologist and more like he was proud of me.

In 2010, I was suffering from severe spinal stenosis due to a bone fragment that had chipped from my C6 vertebra. I required emergency neck surgery or faced the risk of being quadriplegic. After surgery, I fell into a state of depression. Relapse after MS relapse building to a surgical climax, I just felt like my quality of life was never going to be what it was before having MS.

I was ready to give up on myself. Not only that, but I was ready to give up on my MS treatment, as well. And I did. I was required to stop my treatment prior to surgery. Post-surgery, I didn’t want to restart my treatment. I had had enough. I was sick of feeling like a science experiment or a pin cushion. It seemed like even though I was on a treatment that another debilitating relapse could strike at any moment.

One month passed post-surgery and I was feeling OK. A little tired, but OK. Then a second month passed with no treatment. Now, unbeknownst to me, I started to forget simple tasks around the home and office. A third month passed and I was dragging my left leg, had blurry vision in my right eye and couldn’t follow simple instructions. However, due to the brain fog I was in, I convinced myself that nothing was wrong.

That’s when my neurologist stepped in. I didn’t tell him anything, but you see I worked for a neuroscience clinic that was associated with his practice. One of the nurses called him and he made a special trip down to the neuroscience clinic to check on me at work one day. As a result of his visit, I found myself in an MRI followed by the news that my brain and spine were blossoming with active lesions. He ordered me a round of solu-medrol and a follow up with him the next week.

During that follow up, he wanted to know why I was acting the way I was. Why was I going against medical advice? I told him I was done fighting and that I had already been through too much. He spent the rest of the appointment helping me decide that I was worth fighting for. That my multiple sclerosis would have periods of relapse followed by periods of remission and that I needed to use the available tools to fight it with all I could. And I did.

Good Times: Last week, I walked into his office feeling like Norm on Cheers. I got to visit with old coworkers and acquaintances and catch up with old friends. Then, it was time for the appointment and this appointment felt a little different. He did his protocol tests and talked to me about lab results from a recent blood draw. Then he took the conversation in a different direction.

“Matt,” he said, “How are your travels? I worry some time that your life on the road is going to wear you down.”

“You know me,” I responded. “I want to use my story to go make a difference in the world.”

“When I think back to when I first saw you, to where you have come, despite the challenges.” He paused. “I’m just…I’m proud of you.”

Given where we have been and reflecting back on the past five years together, the good and the bad, I was speechless. This is a revered neurologist, that has been practicing MS in Phoenix since 1978 and he is proud of me.

At first, I was speechless then I responded, “Remember when you told me I was worth fighting for? Well, I believed you.”

I believe that all of you who are reading this are also worth fighting for. The question is, do you believe it too?

*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/

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Runaway MS Train

By: Matt Cavallo

I remember as if it were yesterday: January, 2007. I was sitting in my neurologist’s office after suffering my third relapse in eighteen months. At that moment, I felt that my MS was a runaway locomotive barreling down the tracks and I needed to somehow find the emergency brake.

My neurologist at the time was new to my case because my previous neurologist took a new position as a stroke specialist at a Boston hospital. I was in to see my new neurologist because I needed to switch medicines due to an allergy I had developed to interferon.

Prior to this visit, I had researched a breakthrough new treatment that had only been on the market for six months. This treatment had been voluntarily removed from the market due to unforeseen deaths during clinical trials and had just received FDA approval for a re-launch in the summer of 2006. Despite the risk associated with this treatment, it showed potential to be the emergency brake that I needed to stop the runaway MS train.

I took control of the conversation in my neurologist’s office right away, “Doctor, I have been reading online about the available options now that I can’t take interferon treatments. After comparing the two other options, I want to try Tysabri.”

There was a long, uncomfortable pause. Then he leaned forward and pushed his glasses up his nose towards his brow and said, “Matt, while I appreciate your research there is not enough published data on this new treatment. There were complications during clinical trials. I am not comfortable prescribing this treatment at this time. Not when there is a safe treatment option with a proven track record still available to you.”

I felt like I just took a gut punch and got my wind knocked out. I sat slumped for a minute in disbelief. He leaned back in his chair and continued, “I am going to write you a prescription.”

“Doctor,” I interrupted, “with all due respect, it is my body. I am in charge of what I put into it. This new treatment is showing great promise and I want to try it.”

“Well Matthew, I am not going to write you a script for it. You still have a platform option that may work equally well. Let’s start you on that.”

“Doctor, I am not going to start that treatment until I get a second opinion.”

Now, his demeanor changed. I could tell he wasn’t used to that kind of patient response. He recoiled, “Very well Matthew, if that is your decision I respect your wishes.”

With that, I left his office and after some more research, I found an MS specialist in Boston. I called her office and she said that she wanted to evaluate my case. I just needed a referral from my primary doctor to go and see her. So, I went to visit my primary care doctor and asked her for a referral.

“No,” snapped my primary doctor. “Our doctors, in our system on the South Shore are every bit as good as the ones in Boston.”

No? Why was everyone making this so hard on me? I didn’t understand what I had to do to get the treatment I wanted and was frustrated that everyone in the healthcare system was seemingly against me.

I called up the Boston MS Specialist again and broke the news that I couldn’t get a referral.

“Matt,” said the MS Specialist, “I am going to reach out to your primary doctor directly and ask for a one-time second opinion referral. Then, you are going to come in and see me and we will find you a new primary doctor that will refer you to me.”

This was eight years ago this month in February of 2007. That month, I started that new treatment and applied the emergency brake to my runaway MS train. This eight year anniversary also marked my decision to be my own healthcare advocate. It took a lot of courage to say no to the doctors, but in the end I felt like I took control of my own health. Today, I have great open relationships with my healthcare providers and we make decisions together as a team.

**Disclaimer**
The previous blog is the author’s real life experience and his personal treatment decision. This is not an advertisement for any particular treatment. What works for one person may not necessarily work for another person. Please consult with your doctor to decide as a team what treatment option works best for you.

*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/

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Hard Family Conversations and MS

By: Matt Cavallo

During my initial hospital stay and subsequent diagnosis of MS, one of the biggest challenges that I faced was talking to my family. We had a history of multiple sclerosis in my family. My dad’s sister, Loretta, was diagnosed with MS in the 70’s and she passed away in 1981 due to complications of the disease. During that time, there was little in the way of treatment available to help her. Not only that, but the disease progressed very quickly. She passed when I was only four, but I still can remember her. She was in a wheelchair and she couldn’t talk, she could only mumble and moan.

While I was laying in my hospital bed contemplating my diagnosis, I was thinking that I shared the same fate as my Aunt Loretta. The whispers around my bed from my family members supported my fears. As a result of these fears, the conversations changed. Family members started treating me differently. They were walking on eggshells around me, careful not to divulge any of their true fears of my future. Even with treatment, as my functionality returned, everyone held their breath for MS to strike again.

Six months later I had another drastic exacerbation. Then, twelve months after that another one. It seemed like I was following Aunt Loretta down a perilous track. And my family treated me that way. It was to the point where I didn’t want to have conversations with them because I wanted them to remember the person I was and not the person I had become with MS.

However, there were a couple of things I had going for me that my aunt didn’t have. One was timing. In 2005 there was a lot more knowledge about the disease and many more treatment options available than when she had it in the 70s. The second thing was history. I knew my Aunt Loretta’s story and I didn’t want mine to end the same way. Family members told me that she didn’t like the advice she received from a doctor, so she never went back to that doctor. I used that information to motivate myself to learn as much as I could no matter if the news was good or bad, scary or hopeful. I just wanted to get the most objective, up-to-date information available to fight. Lastly, I had hope. In the seventies there was little known about the disease. Today, there is research and scientific breakthroughs, social support networks, and hope.

If I could go back in time with all I know today about living with multiple sclerosis, the fear and egg-shell conversations with my family would be dramatically different. I would use the resources around me, like My MS Journey, to educate myself and ease my family’s fears instead of staying silent.

Today my family conversations are no longer about the horrors of MS. My family and I now talk about my future and my kids and all of the awesome stuff that normal people talk to their family about. Today we are a normal family and I just happen to carry the torch of multiple sclerosis. I have had it for approaching ten years now and I am still working, playing, being a dad and living the life I always wanted to live. That makes me proud to talk about my MS journey and how I have lived a great life despite my diagnosis.

Resource:
http://mymsaa.org/journey/

*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/

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How Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference in the New Year

By: Matt Cavallo

While most people are planning for their New Year’s resolutions, many of us with multiple sclerosis are just trying to feel normal again after all the holiday activities. The problem with the holidays is that they take us out of our normal routines and create financial and emotional stress. When we go outside of our normal routine or have increased stress, we unknowingly put ourselves at risk for an MS exacerbation, or relapse.

Last year I blogged, “Tips for Avoiding a Post-Holiday Multiple Sclerosis Flare”, which can be read by clicking here. Those tips include: developing a financial plan, changing eating habits, exercising, getting back on your schedule and setting attainable goals. You can enjoy the holidays, but it is critical to have a plan to get back on track.

Most times my tips come from lessons I’ve learned the hard way. Instead of taking my own advice last year I tried to be super dad and ran myself ragged. I spent the next couple of months trying to recover from the MS fatigue, was unable to take off the extra holiday weight and had to buy new pants with a stretchy waist band.

You see, you don’t have to wait until the New Year for a do-over. Resolutions can start at any time. Mine was to ditch the stretchy pants. I made sure to start working towards it before the holiday season began. I also made a couple of smart decisions along the way.

I took extra time off to make sure that I wasn’t stressed with last minute running around. Taking care of the gifts ahead of time also softened the financial stress of the season, because the costs were spread out. We didn’t stray too much from our regular diet, but did allow some holiday goodies. I also made sure to take extra time to rest. Taking the time off to spend with my family allowed me to be super dad and catch up on rest.

With all of the planning I did ahead of time, I am much less stressed and fatigued than last year. I am also down a couple of pounds and can ditch the stretchy pants. I’m still not exactly where I want to be yet, but I am working on it. A pleasant side effect of implementing a resolution before the New Year is that I actually believe that I have some attainable goals that I can stick to.

What I learned is that I don’t need a holiday to commit to feeling better. I cannot control what MS does to me, but I can control other things like fitting into my pants. Making small changes can have a big impact on how you feel or how fatigued you are. What little changes are you going to make in 2015?

Thank you for your continued readership and support. Wishing you and yours a happy, healthy New Year!

*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/

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Air Travel Tips for the MS Community

By: Matt Cavallo

As the holidays approach, many of us living with a chronic illness are fretting holiday travel. Maybe you would like to travel to see friends or loved ones, but are hesitant because of your illness. You are not alone. Travel is stressful for everyone. Airports are big, busy and fast-paced. Security lines can be long and the thought of standing, unpacking, and repacking at TSA is enough to unravel even the most seasoned traveler. Compound traveling with the upcoming holiday lines and ticket prices and it may be enough for you to forego holiday travel and just stay home.

If you need to travel during the holidays and you are living with a chronic illness, there are several steps that you can take to ensure your airport experience doesn’t exacerbate your illness. The following steps will ensure that your holiday airport experience is as smooth as possible:

Five Steps to Stress-Free Air Travel for People Living with MS

1. Book your travel early. As a rule of thumb, booking your ticket fifty days in advance will get you favorable ticket prices, preferred seating (unless your airline has open seating like Southwest) and better flight time selections. Business travelers typically book fourteen days in advance, so if you wait to the last minute seating will be limited, as will flights, and the price will be higher.

2. Fly during off hours or off days. Much like morning traffic, the airport has rush hours too. My preference is to get the first flight of the day, even if it means being at the airport before the sun comes up. Airports are generally running once the sun goes up until the sun goes down. Whatever you do, avoid the last flight of the day, especially if you have a connection. If you are on the last flight, you have a greater likelihood of missing connections and then being rebooked on a flight the next morning. Mondays, Thursday nights and Friday mornings are business travel days. Sundays can be busy as well. Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are light traffic days and typically have cheaper flights.

3. Notify the ticketing agent or gate agent of your condition. If the airport and airline staff are aware of your illness, you can get wheelchair or transportation service (if necessary), medical clearance to get to the front of the TSA screening line and pre-boarding status at the airline. If you have trouble standing or waiting in line, be sure to tell the agents or TSA that you are a fall risk and have weight-bearing precautions making you a risk to stand in line for long periods of time. The number one goal at the airport is the safety of passengers and if you are a fall risk they will make every effort to prevent you from falling.

4. Limit carry-on luggage. Checking a bag is an extra cost (on most airlines), but that cost is well worth it. Check the TSA website for the items that they allow to get through screening. Make sure that if you have to pack liquids in your carry-on, they are a size that meets the TSA standard. They will confiscate any items that are prohibited for travel. Also, if you have limited strength or range-of-motion, it can be difficult lifting your carry-ons to the overhead storage.

5. Relax. The stress and anxiety of flying has many components that are out of your control. Stressing over the things you cannot control during air travel can be enough to make you sick and ruin your trip. If you follow the four preceding steps, you will be able to minimize most stressful airport situations. Unforeseen stressors like weather delays, mechanical failure and gate changes are situations that you cannot predict. If you can relax and take these steps into mind, knowing that whatever unforeseen delays are out of control, you will feel much better both during and after travel.

I fly a lot. Four out of my last six flights have had some kind of issue. I was delayed three hours on a one hour flight to Palm Springs. They loaded the plane, only to unload it and switch us over to a new plane after the delay.

Another time, I arrived in Detroit with plenty of time to make my connection to Akron, but there was no gate available. They said they notified the gate agents, but when I finally arrived at my transfer gate after a half hour delay, the gate agent had just shut the door. And even though four of us were standing there, she refused to open it or hold the plane per policy.

In this case, I didn’t take my own advice. I was on the last flight of the day and they couldn’t get me to Akron until 3:00 PM the following day. I had a speech in the morning, so I had to drive overnight and got to Akron at 4:15 AM. I was tired and groggy, but luckily able to caffeinate myself enough to give a great speech. Even though it worked out for me, the stress and delay were not worth going through that again.

As always, my advice comes from my mistakes. As a seasoned travel, I understand the do’s and don’ts of air travel. I hope that these steps help to make all of your air travel stress free. Safe travels!

*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/

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My MS Journey

By: Matt Cavallo

As an author and speaker, I have had the privilege of meeting people living with multiple sclerosis at MS events across the country. One of the ties that binds us is that we’re all different. Sure, we experience similar symptoms, whether they be vision, balance, memory related, or other, but each of our journeys is unique.

Whether you are just starting out as recently diagnosed person living with MS or are a seasoned traveler living with the disease for many years, there is a website available with resources to help assist you on that journey, My MS Journey.

My MS Journey organizes MS resources in a central location to help assist you with where you are at in your MS journey. The resources are categorized in an easy-to-use, searchable format. The following blog is step-by-step instruction of how to find information on the site.

5 Steps for Navigating My MS Journey

Let’s say for example that you were newly diagnosed and wanted a resource on how to talk to family and friends. My MS Journey can help using the following steps:

1. Enter the following link into your internet browser: http://mymsaa.org/journey/
2. Click on the picture or heading for your particular journey, in this case Just Starting Out:

MyMSJourney

3. Click on the section header to expand the section, and then click on the hyperlink to open the resource that you would like to select.

juststartingout 4. A new browser window will open up displaying the resource information that you were seeking.

includingfamilyandfriends 5. When you have finished accessing the information, you can either close the tab or click the My MS Journey tab to return to the main site.

Additional Functionality
While My MS Journey is categorized into sections with content and resources to assist you in each step of your journey, the home page of My MS Journey has additional functionality relevant to everyone living with MS.

A. Site Preferences – allows you to control your font size preferences, access keys, and print options to make the site more accessible for you.
B. Helpful links – these links provide tools and resources to help you better manage your MS, like the MS Resource Locator and Prescription Assistance Programs.
C. MS Trivia – impress your friends and family with how much you know about MS by participating in the trivia section. Once you make a selection, the right answer will be displayed along with how others answered.

The front page also allows you to share this site on social media. Sharing this site is important because of all the great resources provided by MSAA to help each one of us living with MS on our journey. Sharing resources that help each of us on our journey helps strengthen the MS community. Thank you for reading and I hope you take advantage of all the great resources that MSAA and My MS Journey have to offer!

*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/

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Continued Success after Therapy

By: Matt Cavallo 

Earlier this month, I wrote a personal story of my positive outcomes with therapy. I utilized Physical and Occupational Therapy, along with Speech Language Pathology to aid in my recovery from neck surgery. This was a scary time in my life, and I was extremely thankful to have each line of therapy to help me overcome my deficits. My personal challenge became what to do once I no longer qualified for therapy visits?

The best way to relate my therapy experience is to talk about my gym membership. I have a family gym membership and make my annual gym appearance sometime in January. Then, I don’t go for the rest of the year. I offer any number of excuses to my wife and kids as I watch them drive off to the gym each Saturday.

The truth is that the only way I would utilize that gym membership would be if I had a personal trainer – someone to look over my shoulder as I exercised that I paid for. Paying for the service holds me accountable and forces me to keep my appointments. I also prefer to work out with a trained professional, who understands my limitations and can design a routine where I won’t hurt myself. The problem becomes I get on a good routine with the trainer, but as soon as I stop using a personal trainer, I stop working out.

This is my same relationship with therapy. While I am actively participating in therapy, I do great. As soon as they give me home exercises, I don’t follow through. I know that the homework given by a therapist is specifically designed to help me functionally, but I just don’t do well when left to my own devices. The problem is that my lack of follow through is detrimental to my health. My neck surgery forced me to change my behavior. Here are a couple of tips that helped me have continued success after being discharged from therapy:

Tips for Continued Success after Therapy:

1. Request clear, written discharge instructions. Your therapist will develop a plan of care that you can continue on your own after you finish all your therapy appointments. Make sure that you get a copy of those discharge instructions at your last appointment.

2. Get a copy of your Home Exercise Program (HEP). Your therapist can provide you home exercise instructions with pictures. These instructions provide a handy reminder of the therapist recommended exercises, as well as a visual reference for how to safely perform the exercise.

3. Make sure you get your questions answered. During your last appointment, make sure that you have a list of questions for your therapist. You will want to make sure that any concerns you have are addressed. There is truly no such thing as a stupid question when it comes to your health and well-being. Even if you think your question isn’t appropriate, you may have a legitimate concern that the therapist isn’t thinking of. I always have my questions written on a piece of paper and take detailed notes.

4. Follow through. Where I am lacking is in the follow through. For my neck, I still have my HEP and discharge instructions. When it tightens up, I know exactly the stretches that help and reference the pictures to make sure I am doing it right. The problem is that if I consistently followed through and strengthened and stretched my neck, then I probably would feel consistently better – just ask my wife!

Therapy is a great start for managing your MS symptoms. Continuing to follow through after you finish therapy is the key to success. Following these steps may help to ensure that you are prepared for life after therapy. Continuing your home exercise program post-discharge will put you in a better position for continued success.

*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/

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A Personal Story of Positive Therapy Outcomes

By: Matt Cavallo

I had one goal for after my anterior cervical fusion surgery: work as hard as I could to return to normal so I could be the dad I always wanted to be. This was not going to be easy. I had a serious neck injury with bone fragments cutting and flattening my spine with every movement. The pain I experienced was intense. Electric shocks shot up and down my body, freezing me in place whenever I tried to move. Instinctively, I held my shoulders tight together when I moved in order to take the pressure off of my spine, but it also made me look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

This was no way to live. My sons were only three and one year old, respectively at the time, and I feared that I wouldn’t be able to be the active, involved dad that I always wanted to be. In my deepest, darkest moments, I was afraid that I would become quadriplegic. Unfortunately, my doctors agreed with my fears and recommended immediate surgery. They said my neck problem was related to an earlier MS exacerbation I experienced of Transverse Myelitis and that even picking up my babies the wrong way could leave me damaged for life.

I was scared. I didn’t want surgery, but I also didn’t want the alternative. In September of 2010, I went under the knife. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was also working for a rehabilitation hospital at the time and received a lot of good advice prior to surgery. When I woke up from that surgery, I followed that advice.

First, I had an evaluation with a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP). While many people know that SLPs can work on cognitive and language deficits associated with multiple sclerosis, many don’t know that SLPs can also help with swallowing issues. My SLP coached me how to adapt my swallowing techniques while wearing a hard neck brace. These strategies helped me adapt during my recovery. My SLP also set expectations about what it would feel like to swallow with the titanium artifact in my neck. Without these compensatory strategies learned from my SLP, my recovery would have been much more uncomfortable and I probably wouldn’t have received the proper nutrition. As a side note, I did consult a Registered Dietician about liquid nutrition options before switching to regular food when I was first out of surgery.

Next, I had an Occupational Therapy (OT) evaluation. Learning to adapt with a hard collar wrapped tightly around your neck is difficult. Trying to dress or clean yourself up after going to the bathroom was impossible for me. My OT worked on activities of daily living (ADLs) including dressing and toileting. These strategies allowed me to remain independent with my ADLs post-surgery. Feeling independent with grooming, toileting and dressing helped my confidence. My wife was already having to dress and change my kids’ diapers. I didn’t want her to have to do the same to me. My wife did really step up and help me when I needed her the most, but my OT gave me the strategies to be as independent as possible during my recovery.

Finally, I had a Physical Therapy (PT) evaluation. First, my PT worked on my neck range of motion, turning from side to side, and rotating my shoulders back into place after all the atrophy associated with being hunchbacked. Then, my PT worked on strengthening my shoulders and neck to ensure that my range of motion and shoulders remained intact after therapy. My PT also gave me home exercises designed to keep the area strong and maintain the progress I made from the therapeutic interventions.

It has now been four years since surgery, and I am happy to report that I have achieved my goal. My quality of life is better now than it was prior to the surgery. I believe that I would not have experienced as much success without the help of my therapists. My PT, OT, and SLP each contributed, not only to my recovery, but also, to the strategies that I learned through therapy which I continue to use today. Most importantly, I am able to be the dad that I always wanted to be. I appreciate every day that I can go out and play with my boys.

*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/

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