By Naeisha Rose
Lisa Ray, a single mother in Jamaica with multiple sclerosis, has been through many hurdles over the past eight years, but she refused to let them stop her from living a full life.
In 2008, the former Wall Street broker and comedy promoter noticed she was displaying slurred speech, and suffered from dizziness and problems with balance. After doing independent research, she self-diagnosed herself with multiple sclerosis, an unpredictable disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain to the body, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Ray’s primary care physician dismissed her symptoms as not being serious enough to be a result of the degenerative disease.
“I asked him if he thinks it’s MS, and he said no,” Ray said. “So I just kind of went on with my life.”
The active mom would go on to spend her free time volunteering at her church with the choir, and teach kids how to write poems at the youth ministry of Bethel Gospel Tabernacle in Jamaica.
When she wasn’t volunteering, she would travel frequently with her son, Bryce, to the Caribbean so they could have mother-son bonding time.
The vacations became less common as she started to feel numbness in her right wrist, and endured more loss of balance in 2009. Two different neurologists had her go through MRIs, a biopsy and EMG nerve tests, but neither found anything wrong with her, according to Ray.
“I figured it was old age, maybe I’m just getting older,” said Ray, who was 44 at the time. “But then I sprained my ankle and it never got better.”
A podiatrist told her she had a torn ligament and that her foot would eventually get better, she said.
Her ankle did not get better and she ended up with drop foot, a condition where you have to drag the front of your foot. It is a usually a system of an underlying neurological, muscular or anatomical problem, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website.
While she was worried about losing her job in finance during the economic recession in the 2000s, she was also seeing a third neurologist who wanted to make sure she didn’t have a stroke.
“I didn’t want to take time off,” Ray said. “No one was saying I had anything.”
In 2010, she saw a second foot doctor who said her drop foot “was coming from her back.” Later that year, she was laid off and the podiatrist referred her to a spine specialist.
“He said if I didn’t have a surgery, I would be crippled,” Ray said.
Two discs were removed from her back, but she still had drop foot, more falls, and now a back brace.
In 2014, after seeing two more neurologists who didn’t find anything wrong with her, she fell entering the building where her son’s high school graduation was held. She later had to use a walker.
A year later, a chiropractor helping her with back spasms diagnosed her with multiple sclerosis. She stubbornly went to see a sixth neurologist at Complete Neurological Care in Valley Stream and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis again by a physician’s assistant, who told her she never needed her spinal discs removed.
“He said I shouldn’t have had that back surgery,” Ray said. “He did my blood work and said we are going to do this, this and this.”
In February, 2016, Ray went to Weill Cornell Medicine and was diagnosed a third time with multiple sclerosis and finally received treatment. Today, she does physical therapy to help with her condition and receives monthly infusions of the medication Tysabri, intravenously.
Since her diagnosis, she has worked on a book of inspirational poems that she is in the process of publishing. She is also producing a one-woman show to address issues that teens face. She is also dating.
“A year ago I couldn’t be in crowds,” Ray said. “Now I’m living my life. No more suffering in silence.”
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose