Atlanta, GA,
09:02 AM

Woman with MS Regains her Zest for Life

Sonja McCrary, 57, was diagnosed with MS in 2009. The challenges she faced have led her to embrace her faith and live life to the fullest.

Sonja McCrary

Sonja McCrary, 57, has always had a zest for life.

“If I don’t know how to do something, I will give it a try. Not to say I will do it twice, but I will certainly try it once!” Sonja says.

With interests ranging from spending time with her husband, Dean, and family including her sisters Twallise, DeShawn, and Cassandra, to fishing to cooking to truck driving, there is no doubt that Sonja has enthusiasm to live fully.

But in 2009, she began experiencing symptoms that made her want to withdraw from the world.

“I didn’t want to see anybody,” Sonja explains. “I just wanted to be left alone because I didn’t know my own body. It was like something had taken over and left me with my mind, but no control over my day-to-day activities.”

Among other symptoms, Sonja was experiencing trouble sleeping, shooting pain through her legs and arms, no strength in her right arm and leg, and decreased vision. After visiting the hospital, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). Like many people, Sonja was unfamiliar with the disease at first.

“It was just not something I had ever heard of,” she says. “Those early days were the ugly days of MS for me when I was trying to get balanced again. I learned I had 13 lesions on my brain and three on my spine. It was not easy.”

After doing her own research and speaking with friends, Sonja decided to go to the Andrew C. Carlos Multiple Sclerosis Institute at Shepherd Center for rehabilitation and treatment in 2012. Since that time, she has returned monthly for infusions and receives an MRI scan yearly.

“Having a clinic that specializes in MS is terrific because it means these people pride themselves on knowing the latest on disease-modifying therapies,” Sonja says. “The team is always so comforting and supportive. On my bad days, I may come in with a headache, but by the time I leave, I’m happy and have a smile.”

Prior to arriving at Shepherd, Sonja had tried two medications that did not work for her. Once she arrived at Shepherd Center, her team prescribed the one that worked. Sonja describes the improvement as “swift.”

“My husband, a neighbor and I would go on long daily walks, even with as slow as I was at the time,” Sonja recalls. “One day after starting my new disease-modifying therapy, I got up, walked out of the house and made it halfway across the yard before I realized I didn’t even have my cane! I promise it was like my wedding day when I realized I was improving!”

Sonja also participates in wellness programs at the hospital.

“Shepherd has holistic, all-around care,” Sonja says. “It’s more than treating my brain and spine, but other things that will help benefit me, like exercising.”

Last year, Sonja noticed a flyer advertising a research study called STEP for MS in the Shepherd Center waiting room. Led by Shepherd Center and the University of Alabama, the study aims to understand what exercise options are most effective for people with MS. It compares the outcomes of a 16-week exercise program conducted at home to a program held in a gym with COVID-19 safety protocols in place.

“I did the gym study, and I loved it,” Sonja says. “Exercise definitely helps with symptom management. I try to be more active and participate in whatever I’m able to do, especially now as I get older.”

Sonja participated in the study from November 2020 to February 2021, and she says it had a lasting impact on her.

“I’ve learned so much. I actually purchased my own weights now so I can exercise at home. They teach you how to use the best of what you have wherever you are. I’ve even included my husband, and he works out with me now!” Sonja says.

Sonja is pleased to say her MS symptoms are now manageable, and she has regained function in her right arm, legs and feet. As importantly, she has regained her zest for life.

“I put it to God and give him the credit,” Sonja says. “Right now, that’s what I’m focused on – growing my faith. As much as He puts me through, He brings me through.”

Sonja also has some words of wisdom she wants others to remember: “Don’t lose hope. If you don’t get it right the first time, try again! It took me three tries, but the third medication for my MS was the charm. We can do this!”

Learn more about Shepherd Center’s MS Institute here.


Written by Damjana Alverson

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.