SIOUX CITY -- When Christina Gormally was in high school, she knew of a teacher with multiple sclerosis who rode around on a scooter. She couldn't help but feel compassion for the woman and think, "I hope I never end up like that."
Several years later in 2004, Gormally, then a student majoring in early childhood education at Wayne State College, felt pain and numbness in her legs one day after stepping out of the shower. The pain only worsened, and a physician at a clinic in Wayne, Nebraska, referred her to a neurologist.
Instead of spending spring break in Arizona with her roommate, Gormally found herself in Sioux City undergoing a spinal tap and MRI. A diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) followed. Gormally was devastated.
MS is a chronic disease that attacks the central nervous system -- the brain, spinal cord and optic nerve. MS can cause many different unpredictable symptoms, including loss of balance, fatigue, tingling, numbness and weakness in an arm or leg. Severe cases of the disease can cause paralysis, complete vision loss and diminished brain function.
There is no cure for MS, which, according to the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, affects more than 400,000 people in the United States and about 2.5 million people worldwide. About 200 new cases of MS are diagnosed each week in the United States.
"I was kind of thrown for a loop," Gormally, of Sioux City, recalled. "I really didn't know what it meant, other than I went back to thinking about that teacher. 'Is this how my life is going to be?' It was scary."
Gormally, who needed a walker to help her walk, received IV steroid infusions for three hours, three days a week. She was also prescribed a nerve pain medication, which she continued to take after finishing up the steroid treatments.
"I was able to walk again. It helped tremendously," she said of the treatments. "I was able to go back to school and finish my degree, which was amazing."
Gormally and her mother, Ann Cady, also attended weekend classes in Omaha that were facilitated by the National MS Society. The classes not only helped Gormally better understand the unpredictable disease, but allowed her to meet others who had recently been diagnosed with MS.
"They told us so much about the disease. It really gave us a lot of hope," Cady said. "It really saved us and turned us around in our thinking."
Now 38 and a stay-at-home mom to daughters Olivia, 9, and Amelia, 6, Gormally's schedule is filled with doctor's appointments. She sees a neurologist, gastroenterologist, dermatologist and urologist. She volunteers for Noah's Hope Animal Rescue and the school booster club when she can. Gormally is also serving as an ambassador for Walk MS, which will be held April 21 at Riverside Park. Funds raised from the walk benefit research and provide critical services to help people living with MS. Last year, the event raised more than $30,000.
Gormally struggles with fatigue. She tries to push through it. When she can't, she said her husband, Mike, picks up the slack and offers support.
In 2016, Gormally experienced a relapse or attack of new or worsening MS symptoms. She was hospitalized for eight days.
"I got to where my body just didn't want to work," she said. "I could barely walk at the time. My husband had to help get me into the doctor's office. I knew things weren't good."
Gormally had developed a lesion on a vertebra in her neck. When 21 days of steroids couldn't resolve her symptoms, a catheter was placed in Gormally's neck and she underwent plasmapheresis, a blood-cleansing procedure.
"That's when I really saw the scary side of MS. How do you bounce back from that?" she said. "I did of course, but with limitations."
Today, Gormally walks slower and experiences tremors. She said she was the first patient in Sioux City to receive Ocrevus, a therapy approved for people with primary progressive MS. Gormally, who is hopeful researchers will develop a cure for MS, said receiving these infusions is both scary and exciting.
"Basically, it's just to slow down the progression of the disease," she said. "Those patients who have primary progressive, they have a sense of hope now. I haven't had any side effects."