Music, Faith and Giving Back Motivate a Woman After MS Diagnosis
After being diagnosed with MS in 2012, Elythia Thompson found her way back to wellness.
For many people, music has the power to move, to inspire, to heal. For Elythia Thompson, 51, music is part of her DNA.
“Music is a legacy in my family,” says Elythia of Fairburn, Georgia. “It’s always been there. It’s part of me.”
Elythia grew up in Seattle, Washington, the second of six children. Her grandfather played guitar and sang, her grandmother played piano, her uncle was a musician, and her father owned several music venues. With inspiration all around her, Elythia began taking piano lessons and singing in the church choir at a young age. In addition to music, her family had a strong faith and used teachings from the church to encourage Elythia to give back to her community whenever she could. These lessons learned while growing up would eventually help Elythia face one of the biggest challenges of her life.
After graduating high school, Elythia attended the University of Washington and then transferred to Clark Atlanta University to pursue a math degree with a minor in computer science. Her education allowed her to work in a variety of roles throughout her career, including IT, procurement, finance and supply chain management. All the while, she made sure to give back to her community by volunteering at The Victory House, a faith-based program that helps at-risk men.
Then in 2012, Elythia experienced two life-changing events. Three months after marrying the love of her life, she received some difficult news. After seeing a doctor about tingling and numbness in her hands and feet and balance issues, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).
“When I was diagnosed, I didn’t know anything about MS,” Elythia says. “Then I heard about Shepherd Center’s wellness program and decided to get involved to get back to health.”
Elythia began visiting the Eula C. and Andrew C. Carlos Multiple Sclerosis Rehabilitation and Wellness Program at Shepherd Center for therapy and support, and she never looked back. At the time, she had poor balance and hand dexterity, which prevented her from playing the piano, an activity she loves.
“I created a vision board with goals for myself,” Elythia says. “My husband decided to buy me a keyboard to inspire me even though at that time I couldn’t hit a note!”
Elythia is thankful for Thomas Miller, music coordinator at Shepherd Center, for supporting her journey back to playing music through the MS Wellness class.
“He believed in me and told me I could do it,” Elythia says. “I would practice hitting one key again and again at Shepherd Center until I felt comfortable enough to get a piano teacher. Now, I can exercise my fingers by doing piano scales. I’m thankful to still be able to use my gift.”
In addition to music therapy, Elythia began exercising and employing other techniques she learned in the MS wellness program.
“MS is about more than the medicine you take,” Elythia says. “I learned how important it is to be physically, spiritually, emotionally and socially active. All of these things are part of your overall wellness. I go to church and stay creative to challenge my mind. I also continue to volunteer and give back.”
Elythia began volunteering at the Shepherd Center welcome desk in 2018. She has been a warm and upbeat presence to hospital visitors, greeting everyone with a smile.
“Other than my home and my church, Shepherd Center is my safe place,” Elythia says. “With MS, you can feel helpless so easily. I love volunteering at a positive place where instead of hearing ‘no,’ it’s all about how you can accomplish your goals – even if it’s in a different way from how you did it before your diagnosis.”
With faith, hard work and support, Elythia has made significant progress since her diagnosis in 2012. Today, you can find her walking up and down the stairs in her house, something that seemed insurmountable a few years ago. Her hand dexterity can still be a challenge, but she has adapted and uses her computer to take notes instead of writing. She has also begun bowling with her husband, an activity they loved doing before her diagnosis and something she has worked hard to do again.
“When I first learned I had MS, I thought there was no way I could bowl,” Elythia recalls. “At Shepherd Center, they encouraged me to start with a lightweight ball and worked on my strength with me using two- and three-pound weights in a wellness class. I gradually got stronger and now bowl with my own personalized eight-pound bowling ball!”
Through this journey, the biggest lesson Elythia learned was that selflessness did not mean she couldn’t take time to take care of herself.
“A lot of times, we forget to take care of ourselves,” Elythia says. “Now, I put my trust in God and take care of me the best way I can. That way, I can be the best version of myself to help and support others.”
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 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.