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MS Patient Discovers Fitness, Friendship at Multiple Sclerosis Institute at Shepherd Center

Karen Alessi of Atlanta, Georgia, credits Shepherd Center with helping her find a new community.

Karen Alessi, 61, had an excruciating bout of the shingles this past fall. After a week, she was still feeling rough, but she hated being bedridden. So, despite the pain, she got back to work and back to her normal routine.

“One thing you learn with a chronic illness like multiple sclerosis (MS), you don’t get better sitting around,” Karen says.

In the late 1990s, Karen was living in her native Buffalo, New York, when she was diagnosed with MS. She moved to Atlanta in 1999, and she quickly found a job with Public Broadcasting Atlanta (PBA,) where she still works today as a senior account manager. She also soon found a built-in community of support at the Andrew C. Carlos Multiple Sclerosis Institute at Shepherd Center.

“Some of my first friends in Atlanta were made in the Shepherd Center gym,” Karen says. “It was such an empowering place to discover. You don’t stand out or feel awkward. Everything is designed for you just as you are. It’s an oasis.”

Eleven years ago, she started working out at Shepherd Center’s ProMotion Fitness Center on a regular basis. She’s gone at least twice a week ever since. That just happens to coincide with when Lisa Eagen began working as a lead exercise specialist at Shepherd Center.

“Lisa and I kid that we’re each other’s longest-running relationship,” Karen says with a laugh. “I can’t say enough good things about her. She’s kept me vertical! And she mixes things up to make sure I keep coming back.”

Karen and Lisa’s friendship has some competition now. Six years ago, Karen married for the first time – to her high school sweetheart, Thomas Alessi.

Back in Buffalo, Thomas had married, divorced and raised his children since the last time he’d seen Karen. But one evening, Thomas’ daughter – who always pestered her father to try dating again – asked him to at least name one woman he’d be interested to talk with.

“And he said my name,” Karen says with a laugh. “In two minutes, his daughter had my Facebook page up. The next day, I got a call from him – 37 years after our last date.”

By Phillip Jordan

About Shepherd Center

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.