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Celebrating My 15th MS Anniversary

By Matt Cavallo
Celebrating-My-15th-MS-Anniversary_1.jpgI was diagnosed with MS on June 10 of 2005. That was a dark day for me. I was 28 years old, married, and had a promising career with a real estate development firm when my whole world was turned upside down. 

I remember it like it was yesterday. I tried to get out of bed for work and I couldn’t feel my feet. I had that pins and needles sensation, like my foot had fallen asleep. My legs had pins and needles as well. I thought maybe I slept wrong. I had to waddle down the hall like a penguin to use the bathroom and get ready for the day. When I got to the bathroom, I realized the plumbing wasn’t working, and I don’t mean the toilet. 

I went to urgent care, then to a neurologist, and was eventually sent to the emergency room and admitted to the hospital. This was all in the span of five days. During that time, I lost my ability to waddle. I was completely paralyzed from the waist down and relied on my wife for assistance with any kind of movement. This was in May of 2005.

I left the hospital without a diagnosis. The doctors told me I would get the test results in a month at my follow-up neurology appointment. During that waiting period, I learned how to walk again with the help of physical therapy

On June 10, 2005, I walked into my neurologist appointment thinking I was cured, but I was wrong. I learned I had something called transverse myelitis and it was indicative of MS. The neurologist said he wouldn’t be sure it was MS until my next exacerbation and diagnosed me with Probable MS (six months later I would develop optic neuritis and my diagnosis changed from probably to relapsing remitting MS). 

I’d like to say I handled it better, but I didn’t. I went into a deep depression. My aunt Loretta had MS and she died eight years after her diagnosis. At 28 years old, I was terrified that I would share her fate. 

Little did I know that at the same time that I was in the hospital, half-way across the state, a litter of soft-coated Wheaton terrier puppies were born. That July, I brought a male from the littler home and named him Teddy. Teddy became my therapy dog. I made the commitment to Teddy and myself to go on daily walks. As Teddy grew, I became stronger and steadier on my feet. Our walks became longer and longer until I regained my prior form. For the past 15 years, he has been there for me through all of my life challenges and celebrations. He no longer is able to walk the way he once did, but he still wakes me up each morning and we go out together. For 15 years, he has been my best MS therapy. 

I kept a diary of my diagnosis, which was published as a memoir back in 2012. I titled it, The Dog Story, after Teddy. MS ended up giving me my true purpose in life. I was no longer a real estate developer. I went into healthcare, became an administrator, got my masters in public health administration and started touring the world telling people about how I got my dog, Teddy. 

Instead of viewing it as a tragedy, I now celebrate June 10. This year will be my 15 year of being diagnosed. I live a happy, healthy life despite the challenges of MS and believe the best is yet to come. You can’t help being diagnosed with MS, but don’t stop MS from letting you find your purpose. Being diagnosed is the beginning of the rest of your life, not the end. Celebrate your diagnosis day and let it push you to do things you never believed possible. If I can do it, so can you!