Atlanta, GA,
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MS Wheelchair Athlete Credits Shepherd Center's MS Wellness Program for Interest in Sports

Joann Dickson, 55, of Atlanta, was pregnant with her second son in 1994 when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). At first, Joann was relieved to know why she was so tired all the time and why she couldn’t keep her balance. But relief was soon displaced with fear. Joann didn’t know anyone with MS. She wondered if her baby would be OK. Would she?

“What stands out to me most, 20 years later, is that when I first came to Shepherd Center, I was encouraged to live my life,” she says. “There are so many resources there, and people are willing to help. I learned that I hadn’t been given a death sentence.”

Indeed, Joann’s life has been filled to the brim ever since. For the past 15 years, she has organized monthly meetings for the African-Americans with MS Support Group in Atlanta, a chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. She recruits speakers, welcomes new members and organizes the group’s events.

“It sounds strange to say, but if it wasn’t for MS, I never would have met so many people who’ve become lifelong friends,” Joann says.

She also likely wouldn’t have 20 medals – and counting – as a contestant in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games. A veteran of the U.S. Public Health Service, Joann has competed in the annual Games as a swimmer, bowler, and member of the track and field team. The events have taken her to cities across the United States, and now she is preparing for the 2015 Games in Dallas. Much of her training takes place in the sports and health classes she takes through Shepherd Center’s MS Wellness Program.

“I never would have even tried these things if I hadn’t gone through Shepherd Center,” Joann says. “But I’ve become athletic in my old age! I’ve done more physically in the last 10 years than I ever did before.”

She jokes that now she’s the one asking her sons – Justin, 23, and Julian, 20 – if they can keep up with her. “They’ll ask me, ‘Well Mom, where are you going today?’ I tell them, ‘Today? Atlanta. Tomorrow? The world!’”

For more information on the Andrew C. Carlos MS Institute at Shepherd Center, click here.

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.