By Mercy's Madelynn Innes
This time of year, many of us come together with friends and family to celebrate the things we’re thankful for. But this isn’t the only time of year that co-worker Angi Ennis counts her blessings.
Throughout her life-long nursing career, she says, “I’ve seen a lot of patients who are devastated by illness, and I’m thankful every morning that I feel good and can go to work.”
At the top of Angi’s list: a supportive husband, 8-year-old triplets and a son doing well in college. But right up there alongside her family is fulfilling her life’s goal as a nurse.
“I’m meant to be a caregiver,” she said. “If I couldn’t do that, I don’t know what I’d do.”
This life-long passion is what defines Angi, not the disease she was diagnosed with 10 years ago.
“I don’t let it,” she insisted. “I’m in the ‘mom phase’ of my life. Plus, the other big part of me is being a nurse. I’m thankful for every day that I’m able to do the things I love.”
At Mercy’s Springfield hospital, that’s been working in the ER, Labor & Delivery, serving as a flight nurse for Life Line and in Interventional Radiology for the last 10 years. In all of these roles, she said, “I’ve always tried to do the best I can, despite uncertain circumstances.”
Angi’s diagnosis with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) at age 35 put her resolve to deal with uncertainty to the test. “When your body decides not to act like it should, there’s nothing you can do.”
Thankfully, that’s not her “normal,” Angi said. But the diagnosis was completely unexpected, nonetheless. “There’s no history of it in my family."
The first symptom was numbness in her left arm. “I’d been working out to get in good shape, so I thought I’d pinched something in my neck.” But that tingling wouldn’t go away. She went to see her doctor, Mercy’s Teresa Olsen; then the “exacerbation” hit.
“I dropped a cup and didn’t know it until I heard it hit the floor. Progressively, my whole body went completely numb from my neck down. It was very scary.”
MS is a disease of the central nervous system and can cause a wide range of symptoms, from numbness in the arms and legs to paralysis in its most severe state. A flare-up of symptoms is an exacerbation and can stretch out for several days or weeks. The type of MS that Angi has means symptoms come and go, repeating without regularity. Her first flare-up, she said, “was like a stroke. I didn’t know what - or if - I’d get my normal self back.”
After her diagnosis, Angi struggled daily with the uncertainty and dread of when the next relapse might start. “But I’m not one to sit still very long, so I had to deal with the uncertainty and just keep going.”
That’s exactly what she’s done. In fact, this makes the ninth year that Angi has done the 150-mile bicycle ride benefitting the MS Society.
“The commitment to ride 150 miles over two days is not something anyone can do on a whim. It’s demanding,” said team captain Mark Kastner. “But the rigors of the ride are lessened knowing we have a teammate with MS who’s riding with us, as we ride for her.”
This year, Angi’s co-workers banded together and rode with her in the MS ride. “It’s always a hard ride, but when you’re with your friends, riding for something meaningful; when what you’re doing has purpose, it’s much easier to overcome a little pain and discomfort. For us riders, we put ourselves through two days of physical challenge and adversity, knowing those for whom we ride face the same each and every day.”
This year is particularly satisfying for Mark and Angi and the rest of their team. They’ve recently been recognized throughout the MS Society as one of the leading fundraising teams. For Angi to ride in this event sends a message that MS will not have the upper hand. And as long as she can, she’s going to continue riding and fundraising. “I’ll keep riding as long as I can because I know it’s one way to raise money for research, and some day, they might just come up with a cure.”
In the meantime, money raised has helped fund research that’s opened doors to new and better drugs, one of which Angi takes faithfully twice a day, instead of painful injections she used to take. They’ve helped her keep debilitating symptoms at bay.
“I see a lot of people who are devastated by the illness. They’re in wheelchairs and not able to work. I don’t think about the uncertainty every day like I used to. Instead, I count my blessings.”