Symptoms that had affected her since her mid-20s flared up while the couple was on an assignment in a remote part of Alaska in 2012. Hurst, then 39, said she became alarmed when parts of her body went numb, with family members fearing a stroke. After many tests, Hurst was finally diagnosed with MS. The couple returned to Morganton so she could receive more advanced care.
Hurst explained that MS is an auto-immune disease in which the patient’s T-cells cross the blood-brain barrier and attack the nerves’ myelin sheaths, which affects people not only physically through pain, tingling, muscle spasms, numbness and fatigue, but also emotionally and cognitively. Patients with more severe cases may even have trouble breathing or experience incontinence. Emotional symptoms include anxiety, depression and severe mood swings. She said symptoms can come and go and affect different parts of the body at random.
“It changes from day to day,” Hurst said. “It can be debilitating to where you are so exhausted you can’t hardly even get up to go to the bathroom. I never know what kind of a day I’m going to have until I wake up, and that is how all MS patients are. Out of the hundreds of thousands of individuals that have MS, they are all different.”
There is currently no cure for MS, but certain drugs can ease the symptoms. Hurst said that despite medication, the disease affected her ability to focus so much she had to resign from her teaching position, a devastating blow.
“My identity was that I was an adventurous academic,” Hurst said. “I was an outdoor educator, so I climbed mountains, hiked and snowboarded. I also had an analytical mind. I was designing an environmental science pilot class utilizing online technology for Alaska’s Department of Education. And then it all disappeared. I lost both physical and cognitive abilities. MS completely changes your life, not just with you, but with your family and what you expect out of yourself.”