Gail Harbott, living with MS for 23 years
Gail was 41, managing a business and raising her two young children, when she was diagnosed with secondary progressive MS in 1996.
“My life changed when I started getting pins and needles in parts of my body and losing my balance, my vision and the sensation in my feet.”
At the time of Gail’s diagnosis, she didn’t know anyone else living with this disease. Her MS progressed quickly, to the point where she required a wheelchair permanently by 2001.
“I had no idea what was happening. When my neurologist told me ‘you have multiple sclerosis’ I didn’t know what that meant. He explained that it is a nerve disease, but at that time I couldn’t absorb or understand what was happening to me.”
“Not one of us knows. We could go to bed one day and wake up the next and have lost our vision, lost our mobility, or have an incurable disease.”
Gail’s symptoms, such as fatigue, can be so debilitating some days that she simply can’t get out of bed. And on the mornings that she pushes past that intense feeling in her limbs, as well as the mental struggle, she’s usually exhausted by the afternoon.
“The hardest thing of all is losing your independence. After my diagnosis, my daughter at the age of 12 had to be a mother and sister to my son. My son at the age of 10 had to cook dinner because I couldn’t get out of bed.”
Two decades on from Gail’s diagnosis, she lives on the Gold Coast with her son’s family and her service dog, Coda.
“I would love to be independent, be able to maintain my home, work full time and dance again.”
Despite not being able to have full independence, Gail feels privileged to have Coda, who has enabled her to do the things she loves. Coda can help open doors, take her shoes off and put laundry in the washing machine (he even separates whites from colours!).
Gail has had to rely on MS Queensland in times of need, and says she shudders to think where she would be without MS Queensland.
“MS Queensland have been amazing help and support for me both mentally and physically. They’ve provided me with amazing physiotherapy support, and having access to a Service Coordinator has been a lifeline! I’ve met some lovely people and made lifelong friends.”