Learning to live with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis at 31

‘It was even a shock to my doctor when the diagnosis of MS came back,’ says Keith Byrne

Keith Byrne, who was diagnosed with MS at the age of 31, with his wife Michelle with son Oliver.Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

Keith Byrne, who was diagnosed with MS at the age of 31, with his wife Michelle with son Oliver.Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

 

Keith Byrne says that when he was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) at the age of 31, he thought it was a death sentence. Now, almost five years later, he has learned to live with the condition and even made some positive changes that would possibly never have happened had he not received the diagnosis.

In autumn of 2014, soon after he and his now wife Michelle were engaged, Keith started to experience blurred vision and dizziness. “I struggled to see the computer screen at work and I couldn’t see the speedometer clearly in the car when I was driving,” he explained. His GP initially diagnosed vertigo, but when the medication for vertigo failed to make any difference, he went for a MRI scan.

“It was even a shock to my doctor when the diagnosis of MS came back. She said it’s not the end of the world, but once I was told, I thought life as I knew it would be over, that I’d be incapacitated and in a wheelchair.”

It turned out that Keith has the relapsing/remitting form of MS and he was experiencing the first bad flare-up of the condition. “I was told to rest and I was housebound for a few months. Even crossing the road was scary. But, I realised that [resting] was the worst thing I could have done. I started to go for walks and keep my brain active by reading and doing brain teasers. I made slow progress. I was back in work by April 2015 and put on medication later that year.

By the end of 2016, Keith’s medication was changed and he hasn’t experienced any relapses in the last few years but he does still have some symptoms. “I experience the brain fog – which is a common symptom of MS. What happens is you forget the point you were going to make or you can’t remember an exact word. I also suffer from fatigue and after my medication was changed, I started to feel really down so I went to a counsellor,” he explains.

During the time Keith was seeing the counsellor, he realised that while his work in the financial services sector was busy, it gave him very little job satisfaction. The couple’s first son, Oliver, was born in January 2017. “I realised that I wasn’t happy with my life outside the home. The counsellor suggested a career change and I started pursuing the possibilities of becoming a primary school teacher,” he explains.

Now, two years later, he has just started a two-year full-time post-graduate degree in primary school teaching at St Patrick’s College, Dublin. “I had volunteered in a primary school when still in my old job and really liked it. So, I gave up my job in the bank in June and repeated Leaving Certificate Irish at the same time. I feel being a teacher will be a job I’ll be proud to do,” he says.

Keith will speak at the MS Explored event - hosted by MS Ireland in association with Novartis - for those aged between 18-35 living with MS at Dublin’s Gibson Hotel on Saturday, October 12th (10.30am-3pm). See ms-society.ie. The informational meeting is free of charge with tickets available now from Eventbrite.

The couple are expecting their second child in January 2020 and Keith says that although family life is very busy, he is happy he has made the changes. In terms of managing his MS, he is on daily medication. He eats healthily and exercises regularly. “My mobility is so much better now compared to when I was first diagnosed. I never smoked and I keep alcohol to a minimum. I’d encourage any young people diagnosed with MS to make sure their lives are going in the direction they want it to go in,” he says.

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