Longside’s Jennifer raises awareness of MS
For the vast majority of people, being told that you have Multiple Sclerosis at the age of just 24 would have seemed like a life-ending sentence.
But not nurse Jennifer Sivers, who shrugged off the devastating blow to give birth to five children, travel the world, and continue with her career.
And, with the support of Cavell Nurses’ Trust, the family is now able to finance extras after her “wonderful” partner Steve had previously given up his job to become Jennifer’s full-time carer.
Jennifer, from Longside, had been prepared for the news from her doctor even before she walked into the surgery.
The intensive care nurse, now aged 43, instantly recalls the time when she first noticed something was wrong almost 20 years ago.
“I had felt tingling and numbness in my arms, but it was put down to the fact I’d been carrying heavy bags in the run up to Christmas,” she explains.
“But then not long afterwards I was waiting to complete my finals for my nursing qualification and my legs didn’t feel right. They just weren’t going, as if there was a temporary pause between your brain saying let’s go and the body actually doing it.
“It started with that and then, two weeks later, I went to my GP. I knew what was wrong before I saw him, but he did the needle test for sensation and I couldn’t feel anything. And when he asked me to touch my nose with my finger I was poking myself in the eye.
“He said he didn’t think it was a brain tumour so I said ‘it’s MS then’. But my mother died of cancer aged 43 so in a way that was the lesser of two evils, and I was adamant that I would live a full life.”
A subsequent MRI scan at hospital confirmed her fears, but within a couple of months of being diagnosed in January she was back at work in the intensive care unit at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.
Jennifer added: “I want to tell people that everything doesn’t have to stop and you can continue with your life.
“I have had five beautiful children and travelled the world despite having had MS for 20 years. I also still horse-ride, and am out of the wheelchair despite being told two years ago after my latest scans that I would probably never walk again.”
She was even treated to a surprise flying lesson by her partner a couple of years ago to try to help her overcome her phobia of flying.
“I have tremendous will-power and determination, and hopefully I can help other people with my story.”
Jennifer’s children are Neive, aged 13, Zara, 11, Kieran, 10, Chloe, seven, and Aimee, five.
She added: “My two eldest daughters are young carers through Voluntary Services Aberdeen and have done a wonderful job aiding and supporting the family, together with my wonderful partner who gave up work as a steel fixer two years ago to be my full-time carer.
“I know a lot of people say you shouldn’t have children when you have MS, but I think I kept in remission because I was constantly being pregnant and breastfeeding for five years.”
Jennifer, who had to retire through ill-health in 2002, had previously been in the relapse and remitting stage of MS for 18 years, when a viral infection or such like can trigger a relapse which then results in a hospital stay. But she now has secondary progressive MS, which is where the condition worsens after each episode.
“Secondary progressive usually, but not always, means a slow deterioration after the relapses have stopped.
“Last November I was paralysed from the waist down but for some reason, I don’t know why, I have been able to get out of the wheelchair and back walking again.
“Perhaps it’s because I am so stubborn but I do push myself to the limit. Two years ago, when I had my scans, it looked as if my nerves couldn’t possibly transfer to my legs, otherwise I shouldn’t be able to walk. But MS is such an unpredictable condition.
“I never want anyone else to go through what I did and be told they have MS at such a young age, but I also want people to know that it’s not the end of the world.”
Cavell Nurses’ Trust was able to provide a £400 grant towards the cost of a special electric bed, a further £75 for the insurance excess on her Motability vehicle, and £500 to help pay for a respite break last year recommended by her GP.
Unfortunately, while on the family holiday to Spain, Jennifer slipped on water beside the pool and badly fractured her shoulder.
“We used to go on holiday every year but money is tighter now so it was wonderful of Cavell Nurses’ Trust to help pay for this holiday, even if I did break my shoulder.”