A Summer Spent At MS Center Offers Insight Into Mom’s Battle

Karen Labe has lived with multiple sclerosis for 19 years, but after emergency abdominal surgery left her extremely weak, the effects of the debilitating disease worsened. She began traveling to the Mandell Center for Multiple Sclerosis at Mt. Sinai Rehabilitation Hospital in Hartford from her New Jersey home for intensive physical therapy each week.

“I started to get better, improvement in all aspects of my MS, my balance, my strength,” she says.

Both of her children are majoring in biology, with aspirations in medicine, and because of their mom’s experience, have spent the summer volunteering at the center and are now using their journeys to help others.

“I think it’s definitely interesting, since the disease does vary from person to person so greatly, to see how other people deal with it,” says Shelby Labe, soon to be a sophomore at nearby Trinity College. Along with her brother, Brett, who is entering his last year at the University of Toronto, she has been gathering patient data and shadowing doctors.

“It gives another perspective to the disease,” says Brett. Their work has been emotional and enlightening, he says, giving them insight into their mom’s daily battle with MS, which attacks the central nervous system.

“It helps me to understand what she’s going through.”

As a pre-teen, Shelby wondered why her mom couldn’t stroll the mall like her friends’ parents.

“I had to see how her life was maybe different from other people’s and I think learning this really showed me that everybody has their struggles,” she says.

Affiliated with Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center, the comprehensive MS center was built six years ago.

“The focus here is to treat the disease and the consequences of the disease, the physical limitations, the mental limitations,” says Dr. Peter Wade, medical director of the MS center. “We have all the resources and, more importantly, the people, the therapists that can help patients.” With a specialized pool, gym and therapy rooms, Wade believes the 6,600 square-foot facility is one of the premiere multiple sclerosis facilities in the country. He also details ongoing “groundbreaking” research of the brain, involving robots and computers.

“I keep asking the doctors, when’s the cure coming?” says Karen, referring to the family joke that her kids will become a Nobel Peace Prize winning duo by solving the mysteries of multiple sclerosis.

But, seriously, she believes their work at the Mandell Center has been a life-changing experience: “They get to see the promise and the hope for the future, as well as me seeing it, so, that’s exciting.”

Shelby says that after this internship, she’s excited to start college classes again with new wisdom about medicine, as well as an incredible appreciation of her mother’s bravery and perseverance: “It really kind of showed me who my mom truly was.”

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