Rachelle Defies MS with Strength and Medical Partnership

It happened all of a sudden. Her legs felt different – heavy, numb and tingly. She ignored it for a few days and figured it would go away. As a 16-year-old, she had better things to focus on – getting used to a new high school, making friends and passing her driving test. But after a week, Rachelle* told her parents, “I’m having a hard time running.”

Within weeks, Rachelle was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) and began a journey that would upend her life. But Rachelle has beat the odds, rising to the challenge with the power of a proactive approach, a never-give-up mindset, and a close, trusted relationship with her doctor. Her story is an inspiring example of how to live well and without fear despite a challenging and unpredictable diagnosis like MS.

MS is an incurable autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), specifically the protective sheath (called myelin) that coats the body’s nerves. In response to this damage, the body creates scar tissue. Both the damage to the central nervous system itself and the scar tissue can result in a wide range of neurological symptoms from pain, fatigue, numbness and tingling to problems with mobility, vision, cognition and emotion. Each person’s symptoms and disease progression are unique.

For Rachelle, MS has caused fatigue, balance issues, permanent numbness in her hands and feet, weakness, and vision problems, among other symptoms. While Rachelle has endured hospitalizations and relapses, she remains defiant in the face of MS. “I focus on my abilities. MS does not define me,” Rachelle said. “I decided a long time ago that I would be resilient no matter what. I take an approach to be aggressive, informed and proactive.”

Three years ago, prior to transitioning to her care to Inova, Rachelle suffered a traumatic experience at a non-Inova emergency room, during which she felt “like a science experiment,” she said. “I actually feared for my life. At that moment, I knew it was time to make a change with my healthcare team.” Rachelle began researching and interviewing other MS physicians throughout. She was looking not just for a physician, but a partner.

“I was looking for the right fit for me: a physician who was responsive and proactive, who would take me seriously, and who would include my family in my care,” Rachelle said. She transferred to the practice of Rahul Dave, MD, PhD, neurologist and Medical Director of the interdisciplinary Inova Multiple Sclerosis and Neuroimmunology Center.

“My care with Dr. Dave is a collaboration, which is important in treating a long-term illness like MS,” Rachelle said. “Anyone who has a chronic condition needs to be aggressive and their own best advocate.”

Rachelle understands how important the patient-doctor connection is in the successful management of a chronic neurological condition, whether it’s epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease or MS. A strong relationship with a physician is the cornerstone of effective MS management, which can make a significant difference in an individual’s long-term quality of life.

“Rachelle came to me because she felt like she was slowly getting worse. For an active person in her 30s, losing her mobility was just not acceptable,” Dr. Dave said. “Every time Rachelle has symptoms, we study it, figure it out, and decide together what the best approach is.”

In addition to being a board-certified neurologist and MS specialist, Dr. Dave has a PhD in immunology, which enables him to think through the patient’s situation in ways that most other MS physicians can’t. His approach looks beyond medication and incorporates a broad range of therapies to optimize each patient’s health and function. He has built a world-class MS program at Inova, including leading-edge imaging technology to track changes in the central nervous system, neuropsychologists and neuroradiologists, physical therapists and nutritionists who specialize in MS, and a range of clinical trial options.

“At Inova, we are taking innovative, evidence-based approaches that combine medication, nutrition, neuropsychology, physical therapy and the latest imaging technology available to create a leading MS resource for Northern Virginia,” Dr. Dave said.

The center also conducts clinical trials for MS and is recognized as a Partner in MS Care by the National MS Society. MS research is among the fastest-growing specialties within neurology. According to Dr. Dave, seven new MS medications hit the market during the COVID-19 pandemic alone.

In the years since her diagnosis, Rachelle has learned everything she could about her disease and how to best manage her symptoms. Working with Dr. Dave and the Inova team, she keeps a close eye on her nutrition, follows a low-inflammation diet and goes to physical therapy regularly. She pushes herself physically, and she is not afraid to try new medications that might yield better results.

Fast forward 22 years, and today Rachelle is a successful and busy woman. She works full time in government affairs, and she keeps fit with cycling, weight training and yoga. She and her fiancé recently rescued a puppy, who she takes out on walks several times a day from her third-floor walkup condo. She is confident that with the support of Dr. Dave, she’ll be defying the odds and living well with MS for many years to come.

Learn more about Inova Multiple Sclerosis and Neuro-Immunology Center, or call us at 571-472-4200.

Leave a Comment