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Silver sneakers gives Spencer hope

Sarah Ethridge Spencer didn’t think she would live this long.

A victim of multiple sclerosis, she was in constant pain and there was nothing that could bring her any relief. She didn’t see how her life could go on.

The onset of the disease was signaled when Spencer lost the sight in her left eye.

“That was in 1983 and I was living in Ann Arbor, Michigan,” she said. “I moved from Troy to Michigan 17 years before because I wanted to go somewhere I could make some money. I got a job with General Motors in data processing and everything was going good until I lost the sight in my eye.”

Spencer’s eyesight came back but the disease was not through with her.

“I lost the feeling above my waist and then below my waist,” Spencer said. “I couldn’t control my hands and I was falling all the time. I just wobbled and I was in so much pain.”

For a long time – months – Spencer was in bed unable to move because the pain was so intense.

“My muscles were so inflamed that it hurt to even breathe,” she said. “I knew it was time for me to go home to Troy.”

At that point, Spencer saw no hope because there seemed to be no help for her.

Once back in Alabama, she was accepted into an MS study at the University of Alabama Birmingham.

“It was a Betaseron study and I received an injection of Betaseron every other day,” Spencer said. “Betaseron doesn’t put the disease in remission but it does stop the progression. I also started taking injections of steroids and I began to feel better but I was so weak that I couldn’t do anything. But the pain was not as bad.”

Three years ago, someone suggested to Spencer that she might benefit from the Silver Sneakers class offered at the Troy Recreation Center. She was willing to give anything a try.

Mike Tatom, class instructor, said when Spender first came to the class, she had to stop three or four times from the car to the classroom.

The Silver Sneakers class is designed to tone muscles, improve balance and increase range of motion.

“In about three months, Sarah showed great improvement,” Tatom said. “She was able to walk all the way around the building. Her balance had greatly improved and she was able to do things that she had not been able to do in a long time.”

Spencer said, with a smile, that she could reach down and touch her foot.

“I never thought I would be able to do that again,” she said. “For a long time, I never thought I would be able to do anything. I didn’t think I would live.”

Spencer gives Silver Sneakers credit for the improvement of her motor skills.

The Betaseron has taken away much of the pain and the “sneakers” have given her mobility.

But, Spencer still has a tendency to fall and she has learned not to panic when she loses her balance and how to prevent the momentary loss of balance from resulting in a fall.

Instead of Silver Sneakers, Spencer is now enrolled in water aerobics at the Troy Recreation Center with instructor Connie Tatom.

“Water aerobics is more forgiving,” Mike Tatom said.

“Sarah still has problems with balance and, when you fall in water, all that happens is you get water in your nose and your hair wet.”

Spencer gives Silver Sneakers much of the credit for her mobility and her much improved coordination and balance. Her improvement is about 70 percent from where she was when she started three years ago.

“Silver Sneakers is a post rehab program that helps people regain their strength, balance and mobility and get back to normal,” Tatom said.

For Sarah Ethridge Spencer, normal is now a day without pain and the ability to walk without falling.

“I’m so thankful for where I am today,” she said. “Mike and Connie Tatom have helped me so much. And, I’m blessed that I can stand up and that I can reach down. I’m so blessed.”