One Step at a Time | Page 2 of 5

One Step at a Time

Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis two years ago, the owner of a Kentlands ballet studio won't let the disease rule her life

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Photo by Liz Lynch

By that evening, she was in the Shady Grove ER waiting to be seen. It was flu season, and the ER was jammed with patients. After waiting for seven hours, MacDonald and Bingham decided to leave and return in the morning.

The next day, she was seen immediately because the ER nurses knew she had been there the night before.

As she lay on the MRI table, she tried to distract herself by reviewing the choreography for her dance classes. “I remember in my solitude praying and asking God for me not to have a brain tumor,” MacDonald says. “…I knew that once I knew what I was dealing with, I would figure it out. But those moments were some of the hardest ones.”

When the scan was completed, an aide wheeled her back to the ER. By then, her mother, Joyce MacDonald, and one of her older sisters, AnnMarie MacDonald, had arrived. With Hope’s family around her, Bingham left the hospital to finish packing up his Gaithersburg apartment, which he had to vacate by the next morning. He was moving in with Hope.

Finally, Dr. Perry Smith entered the cubicle. A Yale-trained neurologist, Smith studied brain tumors at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. Joyce MacDonald was standing beside Hope’s bed, her arm around her daughter’s shoulders.

“You have what is called multiple sclerosis,” Smith told Hope.

She broke into tears.

Her mother stepped away for a moment so Hope wouldn’t see her cry. “I felt like I had been shot,” Joyce MacDonald recalls. At that moment, she felt the helplessness of a parent unable to make it all go away.

“When they’re little, you just put a Band-Aid on and kiss it and say everything’s going to be OK,” she says. “I can’t put a Band-Aid on this.”

MacDonald quickly sent an ominous text to Bingham, who was boxing up his belongings: “Can you get down here as soon as possible?”

With everyone gathered around, Smith showed MacDonald’s MRI to the family. She had several lesions—a typical sign of MS—on her brain. Lesions can appear as either light or dark spots on the MRI. They pinpoint sites where nerves have malfunctioned. One of them was on MacDonald’s brain stem, which controls the messages between the brain and the rest of the body. That was the cause of her double vision. “It’s one of these instances where a picture is worth a thousand words,” Smith said.

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