WINSLOW — For most people, simple things such as going to the grocery store or walking to the end of the road to get the mail may seem annoying or irritating.

For Angie Carlson, they’re some of the best things in the world — things that connect her to what her life used to be like.

In 2005, Carlson, 39, had a job as a radio operator for the Air Force. She was starting a family with her husband, Seth, whom she had met while on duty in Japan in 2000.

“Around the seventh month of my pregnancy while I was in the military, I couldn’t really keep up with my squadron,” Carlson said. “My legs kept giving out. I thought it was just from getting bigger, but my gait was off, too.”

After giving birth to her only son, Ethan, Carlson went for her six-week checkup, and her problems hadn’t gone away. Her doctor recommended a visit to a neurologist.

“I was saying it’s probably just an inner ear infection,” Carlson said. “The neurologist told me I had multiple sclerosis. I didn’t know anything about it. I was like ‘What are you telling me?’”

Carlson recalled all these moments — the highs of falling in love and starting a family, the lows of being diagnosed and forced retirement — from her living room with a smile. Her legs were crossed with a pale blue strap beneath her right knee. A little matching plastic clip, no bigger than an iPod Shuffle, was attached to her shoe.

“I like people to see this,” Carlson said, pointing at the strap below her knee, “with this,” pointing to the clip near her ankle. “Or else it looks like I’m on house arrest.”

Over the last year, Carlson has been able to regain a lot of her mobility thanks to a type of walking aid, the Bioness L300. A common syndrome of multiple sclerosis is foot-drop, which makes it hard for someone to walk for long stretches. Before the L300, Carlson said she had to use a cane when she was going anywhere, and even then, it was a short walk at best.

“Before, I could probably walk to the stop sign at the end of my street,” Carlson said. “I didn’t want to take the cane anywhere. I don’t know if it was pride or what.”

Even so, Carlson didn’t let the syndrome affect her too much, even traveling back to Indiana for her 20th high school reunion.

“I got up from a table with my friend and her husband, and I was holding on to their arms, and I remember one of these guys saying, ‘Have you had a little too much to drink?’ I told him I had one beer and I’ve got MS. I just made light out of it, and he said I had such a great attitude about it. What should I do? Crawl in a hole?

“I laugh at myself every day. I walk like I’m drunk.”

The device helped Carlson regain her mobility to the point that she rarely gets out of bed without it.
“I charge it up every night,” she said. “Like a cellphone.”

It’s no secret that most parents consider their children a blessing. For Carlson, however, the birth of Ethan was also a blessing in disguise. With a newborn at home, Carlson had little time or energy to worry about herself or her condition.

“Ethan was only 2 months old when I found out I had MS,” Carlson said. “I can’t sit here and think about it. I just had a baby. My attitude was, ‘All right, let’s move on.’”

The challenges didn’t get easier for Carlson as the disease struck her in different ways. She went through a year of losing sight in each eye. Once that stopped, she developed foot drop. Even with the Bioness L300, the heat and humidity control her day. Now her right hand is completely numb.

Someone who was so active and always on the go was now a victim of the weather.

“I used to do so much,” Carlson said. “Now I can barely get to a place I need to be.”

Despite the limited mobility, Carlson approaches everything with a smile. It’s the simple walks through a grocery store with Ethan that Carlson cherishes now.

“You have to sit back and think what can you do to make it better,” Carlson said. “You can’t just say, ‘I have a disease,’ and lay around. I have a life; it’s just a life with some adaptations. I just deal with it.”

Jesse Scardina — 861-9239
[email protected]

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