WEST MILFORD Back in 2008, then-17-year-old Lyndsay Wright had her whole life ahead of her. The West Milford High School senior was preparing for a DECA state competition, looking forward to college, and of course reaching her milestone 18th birthday. But then she started feeling different. Suddenly, she was going numb from the waist down. Her feet were tingling and she was tired all the time.
Still she went on the DECA trip, despite her mom's encouragement to stay home if she didn't feel well.
"It got worse while I was away," said Wright, who is now 22. "I actually fell over while walking on stage to receive an award."
That's when she and her mom, Donna Wright, started the journey to find out what was wrong. Wright said she went to her regular doctor, thinking she had a pinched nerve. But her doctor listened to her symptoms and sent her to a neurologist thinking it may be more serious. He was right.
On her 18th birthday, Wright had her MRI. Ten days later, she learned what her neurologist had feared: she had multiple sclerosis.
"It's hard at first to come out about it," said Wright. "But I realized I can help other people going through the same thing I am."
Wright didn't know what MS was, but, she said, her mom did (see box). Donna Wright cried when her daughter got the diagnosis. Wright went to the internet to find out more about the disease - and it was all negative.
"They told me not to go to the internet but I did anyway," said Wright. "It focused more on the negative than the positive. It was all I thought about. I didn't know what direction my life would go."
Turning it into a positive If there is any advantage of being diagnosed with MS at such a young age, it may just be your outlook. Wright, like most 18 year olds, was positive and looking forward to the life ahead of her. And while the diagnosis was all consuming, her positive outlook certainly won out. Her DECA activities in high school were a precursor to where her professional life would take her. She has since gone on to get her bachelor's degree in marketing from Berkeley College and works full time as an account executive.
"When I was diagnosed, I did talk about it but not with many people," she said.
One of those people was another student at West Milford High School. That conversation was important because recently that young woman reached out to Wright on facebook. She too was recently diagnosed with MS and was looking for advice.
Wright knew from the get go she had to reach out to more than just the people she knew; it just took her a little time to figure it all out. She started a blog entitled Lyndsay's Journey. She also has a facebook page dedicated to her journey in the hopes of helping others who are starting from the same place she was.
"When I was diagnosed, I had no one my age to talk to," said Wright. "There aren't many people my age with this so I want to be there for others. I'm getting more comfortable with opening up."
That she is. Helping the cause
Wright knows that research is vital to helping those already affected by MS and also finding out the causes and possibly eradicating it. She walks in the local Walk MS event, which raises money for research. This year was extra special for her. Wright was named the 2012 Walk MS "Most Inspirational Walker" for the New Jersey metro's Walk MS last Sunday in Ridgefield Park that drew over 10,000 walkers. Her team consisted of about 15 family members and friends, including, of course, her mom Donna.
"She's always been my number one," said Wright. "She's been there through it all."
The team has raised over $1,000 so far and Wright looks to expand on that next year.
Looking forward Wright is both optimistic and realistic when it comes to life in general and multiple sclerosis in particular. She has a wisdom that defies her youth.
"Four years ago, I would have never imagined I'd be doing what I'm doing," said Wright. "Some days I wake up and I'm exhausted. I feel the effects of the heat in the summer and I take an injection every day. But I work full time, I stay active and take my vitamins every day. I take care of myself. I feel good, energized. Everything happens for a reason. Maybe I was meant to help others."
And her advice to others with this diagnosis?
"Don't let it get you down. Think positive. Talk to your friends and family and keep pushing forward. You've got to show MS who the boss is."
To check out Lyndsay Wright's blog, go to http://Lyndsaysjourney08.blogspot.com. Look for her facebook page of the same name.