Man with MS Regains Mental and Physical Strength through Exercise
Paul Fleming restarted his active lifestyle to help manage his MS symptoms.
Paul Fleming, 53, has always been an active person. As a young man, he played football for Tennessee State University. These days, he loves to go fishing, cycle and coach middle school football. He and his wife, Cheryl, also keep busy looking after their three children, Ashley, Paul and Christopher.
But in 2004, something happened that temporarily derailed Paul’s busy lifestyle.
“I started having seizures a couple of times a day,” Paul says. “They were in five- to 10-second increments. My whole left side would just turn off.”
A neurologist referred Paul to the Andrew C. Carlos Multiple Sclerosis Institute at Shepherd Center, where he was officially diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) by Ben Thrower, M.D., medical director of the MS Institute.
“Initially, I took the news of the diagnosis surprisingly well,” Paul recalls. “I decided early on not to be afraid. This was just one more cross I would have to bear.”
Paul has been visiting Shepherd Center twice a year since 2004 for infusions to manage his MS symptoms. He partially credits his positive outlook on the care he has received.
“Being under Dr. Thrower’s care, there’s very little I have to worry about,” Paul says. “As someone with MS, I can attest to the importance of having the right doctor. That’s like your security blanket.”
With the good, there have also been some tough times. In 2019, Paul was struggling with his symptoms, including losing function in his left foot.
“A lot of times with MS, you can backslide,” Paul says. “At the time, I wasn’t exercising like I should be. My MS started to come out of remission, and I needed a push to get healthy again.”
That extra motivation came via a phone call from Shepherd Center’s MS research program.
“I got a call, and they asked me to participate in a new exercise study,” Paul says. “I was lucky that they caught me at just the right time.”
To better understand what exercise options are the safest and most effective for people with MS, Supervised versus Telerehab Exercise Program for People with MS (STEP for MS), a four-year study funded by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), was launched in 2017. The study compares the outcomes of a 16-week exercise program conducted at home (“telerehab”) to a program held in a gym (“facility-based”). Paul participated in the telerehab study from August to December 2019.
“It really helped me,” Paul says. “People with MS go through a lot of emotional and physical swings, and exercise can literally breathe life back into your body. When I saw how good I felt, I wondered why I ever stopped in the first place!”
In addition to helping himself feel better, Paul hopes he can pay it forward to others with MS.
“Doing research trials like this helps the next group of people,” Paul says. “Whatever struggle you may have, the findings from your study help the next set of individuals who come into the study. I want to make life easier for the person behind me.”
Written by Damjana Alverson
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 743 inpatients, 277 day program patients and more than 7,161 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.