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Overcoming barriers: Patient with MS faces challenges and thrives

As a full-time social worker, Nicky Lewis has always placed the interests of others well before her own, grateful for the opportunity to regularly improve her patients’ lives.

Ironically, when diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) this past April, she suddenly became a patient herself. (MS is an autoimmune disease in which the myelin sheaths that surround the spinal cord and the brain’s axons are damaged extensively, leading to lesions and scarring.)

Before her diagnosis, Nicky had experienced an array of MS symptoms, including dizziness and a lack of balance. At first, she tried to ignore her symptoms, hoping they would eventually diminish, but she was’t able to for long.

After receiving an official MS diagnosis, she was referred to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, where she began to receive physical and occupational therapy. During her 10-day inpatient stay, she was offered a range of therapies.

“I was amazed by the facilities and therapies available to me,” Nicky said. “I never knew how incredible the facility was.”

To help relieve some of her MS symptoms, including reduced coordination and a lack of sensation in her extremities, Nicky was able to use various kinds of equipment, including adapted weight machines and hand bikes.

“As I was learning to use a wheelchair and forearm crutches, much of the therapy was focused on upper body strength and an increase in coordination,” Nicky said. “I learned to use equipment that allowed me to safely ambulate independently.”

For Nicky, the restoration of her independence was undoubtedly her ultimate goal and the main motive behind her numerous months of therapy.

“I desperately wanted to have my normal life back,” Nicky said. “I wanted my independence again. I was very upset by how much I had to rely on others to meet even my most basic needs.”

To ensure she would receive the greatest gift she could have asked for at the time – independence to live and work freely once again – hospital staff members taught her how to use equipment that would allow her some newfound mobility.

“I learned how to navigate my normal day-to-day activities while using these devices,” Nicky said. “Through regular rehab, and with the help of wheelchairs and other equipment, I can shop for groceries, prepare food, and enjoy a lot of the activities I used to.”

Aside from Mary Free Bed’s extensive assortment of equipment, Nicky also noticed the hospital staff’s friendliness and the ways in which each medical professional helped her throughout the recovery process.

“Everyone I met was so understanding and helpful,” Nicky said. “They were very patient and seemed to genuinely care about my recovery.”

As a result of her therapy, Nicky is still able to relish her career as a medical social worker at Saint Mary’s Health Care, while also working as an adjunct social work professor at Grand Valley State University.

When she is not helping her patients or preparing her students for their future careers, Nicky usually spends her free time educating others about her disease.

Whether she is writing a blog about life with MS or preparing for a future MS walk fundraiser to increase public awareness, Nicky continues to overcome all barriers established by the disease.

Although MS presents constant challenges to its sufferers, she encourages other patients to overcome their limitations as well.

“Focus on the present and live one day at a time,” Nicky said. “There will be difficult days, but life will always have challenges. I have chosen to adapt and move forward – and so can you.”

View Nicky Lewis’s blog at www.OtherSideOfTheRails.blogspot.com.


Melissa Hoezee

This is a wonderful story. Nicky definitely deserves to have her life as it was. She is a wonderful individual and a great asset to St. Mary’s.

Dawn Borreson

Wonderful article about an amazing woman. Love this positive spirit and willingness to share her story. I am honored to work with Nicky. She is truly an inspiration.


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