Last October, Kayla Montgomery, a junior at Mount Tabor High School in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, won her regional cross-country 5K race. The following week, she placed 10th in the state championships. While these are impressive feats for any young person, they defy the odds when you consider that she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) two years ago.
The diagnosis came after she fell at a soccer game and bruised her tailbone. “That night I started losing sensation in my toes. Over the next three days, I became numb all the way up to my waist,” she recalls. She went through a series of tests, including a spinal tap, before she was diagnosed with relapse-remitting MS.
Those with MS experience numbness, muscle spasms and other debilitating symptoms. Relapse-remitting MS is slightly different, in that the patient has periods where symptoms are fewer, or gone completely, between attacks. It is estimated that 85% of people with multiple sclerosis are initially diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS.
“When I was diagnosed, I was really scared. It’s so unpredictable, and I thought something awful was going to happen. I was also really mad,” says Kayla.
Her mother, Alysia Montgomery, is a home health-care provider. She knows firsthand how difficult life with MS can be, especially for a young athlete. Her daughter wasn’t about to let MS get in her way, and while she had to quit soccer, she stuck with her passion for running.
“I couldn’t feel anything when I ran, and I couldn’t feel warmth so I’d be freezing even with four pairs of sweat pants, but I guess I’m just really stubborn, and I didn’t want this to stop me.”
Her neurologist, Lucie Lauve, MD, is impressed with the efforts of her youngest patient.
“She’s an incredibly gifted athlete and she’s so positive,” says Dr. Lauve.
Even though she is in remission, when her body overheats, the symptoms return.
“When the body temperature is raised, the electrical signals that tell your arms and legs what to do is slowed. So if there’s an imperfection, like scarring from MS lesions, that communication is interrupted, and a patient may have temporary numbness,” says Lauve. “The process can quickly reverse after the body cools.”
The superstar has already received letters of interest from Division I college running coaches, and she hopes to run her way into a scholarship to help her realize her dream of becoming a doctor herself.
“MS doesn’t define me, but I think it’s part of who I am, and if I hadn’t been diagnosed I wouldn’t be as determined in my running,” Kayla says. “I want to prove not just to myself but to others that MS is manageable, and you can reach your goals.”