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Alexandria Garcia

Fighting MS With Ballet

Holy Name MS - Alexandria Garcia

A good portion of 2018 is a blur to Alexandria Garcia but she knows it was the year that changed her life's trajectory. At 28, she went from living in her own apartment, working two jobs and being physically active to completely relying on others for the most basic of tasks. It was a time when she wanted her life to end.

"But it didn't and now the future looks better than it ever did," Alexandria said. "I lost my independence in one way but gained it in a different way, with ballet. I know someday I'll be in New York City dancing ballet."

Yes, that's right. Despite being so ill that she could no longer walk at one point, she now aspires to a career as a ballet dancer.

Alexandria said without the treatment she receives from The Alfiero & Lucia Palestroni Foundation Multiple Sclerosis Center at Holy Name, she wouldn't be able to even conjure up such a dream, much less work towards it. But under the care of Dr. Mary Ann Picone, Medical Director of the MS Center, Alexandria is strong enough to practice ballet 2 ½ hours a day and learn how to play the piano.

These are no easy feats considering how much has changed in her life. She went from being able to read a Harry Potter book in a weekend to being wiped out by Dr. Seuss.

The change was shockingly quick. She had a couple of days when she felt a little fatigue and slight dizziness while scrambling some eggs for breakfast, but she attributed it to the stress of working full time as a high school science teacher and as a Realtor. Then one July morning, she woke up feeling like she had a hangover, though she didn't drink the prior night.

Trying to get to the bathroom, she crashed into walls and furniture before collapsing. She knew her parents had a key to her apartment and they rushed to her aid when they couldn't understand what she was saying on the phone.

She has spotty memories of being in the hospital – but later learned her parents were told she might not make it. Alexandria wasn't sure she wanted to.

"I just remember being in constant pain – as if I had been stung by a jellyfish all over my body," she said. "I was also embarrassed because I couldn't do anything for myself and needed so much help."

Her odyssey to find out what was wrong with her included several hospital visits, countless tests and blood draws, x-rays and scans. She went to a physical rehabilitation center twice. Finally, one of the hospitals recommended Holy Name where Dr. Marissa Oller, a neurologist, and Dr. Picone ran a battery of tests.

They found Alexandria had relapsing remitting MS, with the telltale lesions on her brain. The disease had caused so much damage she needed to learn how to walk, feed herself, sign her name and even talk, "Alexandria is not an easy name to pronounce," said. "I trust Dr. Picone completely – she is so confident that she makes you feel confident," Alexandria said. "Her whole staff makes you feel that way – they are so friendly and professional. With treatment at Holy Name, I've had no setbacks. They really know what they're doing."

By October of that year, she was out of her wheelchair and refused a walker and cane – just the sight of them stressed her out. But as much as she desperately wanted to keep working, she had to resign. She moved in with her mom and still doesn't drive because it exhausts her too much. Most nights, she's in bed by 9 p.m.

Finally, the silver lining to her dark cloud – she realized she felt so much better when she forced herself to move, so she signed up for ballet classes, something she always wanted to do. She had taken jazz classes as a child, ran track in high school and had always been active.

"I've always believed in science and survival of the fittest," Alexandria said. "I'm going to keep moving until I can't any longer. Ballet makes me feel better overall but it also good for balance, and for memory because you have to learn the steps. It's a lot of hard work but even during the pandemic, when classes shut down, I practiced with videos online. I went on pointe in May – something my teacher didn't think I'd ever be able to do. Ballet all the way – that's my future."

Learn more about Alexandria Garcia's Neurologist