Kristen Kroen, once a marathon runner working for a prominent interior design firm in Boston, MA, was devastated when she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) at just 39 years old. “I did not drink, I did not smoke and I lived a pretty healthy lifestyle,” says Kroen. She asked herself the question that so many “healthy” people ask themselves after receiving bad news like this, “Why me?” It was what she called “the perfect storm,” including a stressful job, a bout with lyme disease, a broken relationship and a nine-alarm fire in the building where she lived – all very stressful events that occurred simultaneously that she is sure contributed to her diagnosis.
In 2006, two years prior to her diagnosis, Kristen started experiencing weird symptoms in her legs such as tingling, “like when your cell phone goes off and is set to vibrate,” says Kristen. As well as the sensation of a rope being tied around her waist pulling her down, which she later referred to as the “MS hug.” Co-workers were concerned for her when they would see her limping at work. She was tripping and off balance. She experienced “foot drop” in her right foot where she had trouble picking up her foot altogether. But for years she pushed through the puzzling discoveries, continuing to work and run.
In every attempt to get to the root of her strange symptoms, Kristen began to see all kinds of health care practitioners including her family physician, orthopedic specialists and even holistic healers. It wasn’t until 2008, after two whole years of exploration and 14 years of not having to seek medical care for even the common cold, she went to Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. The MRI and spinal tap they conducted finally revealed the disturbing diagnosis – Kristen had MS. Affecting more than 2.3 million people worldwide, MS is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body.
“Life as I knew it was over. I ran 10 to 15 miles a day and now I could barely walk,” recalls Kristen. “But I really had no choice other than to deal with it head on.” Since there is no cure, patients with MS focus on fighting its symptoms. The key to their quality of life is to modify the course of the disease by reducing the number of relapses and delaying progression of disability to some degree. Symptoms occur when the immune system produces inflammation within the central nervous system. The damage caused by inflammation can produce symptoms that resolve over weeks to months or symptoms that are permanent. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, which is one of the reasons this disease so hard to treat.
For Kristen’s treatment, doctors at Brigham recommended various infusion therapies and oral medications shown to treat the symptoms and prevent relapse of MS, but the results were less than satisfying. Feeling discouraged, Kristen chose to do nothing for the next three years. Her disabilities forced her to quit her job and in 2013, she left her friends, her Brownstone in Boston, the city she loved, and moved to be near her parents in Hobe Sound, Florida. “I felt like giving up. My condition had been deteriorating and the symptoms had not improved. In three short years, I went from crutches, to a walker to wheel chair. I was very frustrated,” says Kristen. “I had attempted so many treatments and made so many modifications to my lifestyle, but it still was not enough.”
Then one day at the most unexpected time, while getting her hair done, her stylist told her about an FDA clinical trial she had read about utilizing stem cell transplantation for autoimmune and vascular diseases. Being accepted to receive this treatment changed Kristen’s life stopping her disease in its tracks, and for the first time in seven years since her diagnosis, she has been able to focus on rehabilitating herself.
According to a review in the Journal of Neurology, results suggest that exercise therapy may have a beneficial effect in patients with MS – Kristen Kroen has certainly found that to be true. “It is my healing place,” Kristen said when describing her time at The Cary Grossman Health and Wellness Center at Jupiter Medical Center. “I look forward to spending time there with my ‘girlfriends,’” referring to the support she receives from her physical therapists who she also praises as “knowledgeable, fun and friendly. They give me courage and optimism and my condition has improved tremendously.”
“When Kristen arrived at our facility, one of her legs was locked in seated position and we had to get it to move,” says Kristy Osburn, physical therapist at the Center. “She could not walk. We started treating with aqua therapy treatment and since she has really come a long way.”
The benefits of aqua therapy include:
Starting in March 2016, Kristen started an individualized therapy program to help her reach her maximum functional potential, which for her means working to recreate the neurological connection between her legs and her brain, otherwise known as neuroplasticity. When Kristen is not working diligently on her rehabilitation at Jupiter Medical Center, she exercises whenever and however she can.
“I will not give up. All of the staff at The Cary Grossman Health and Wellness Center, as well as my wonderful parents, has been so encouraging, optimistic and supportive of me and my dreams to get back to a normal life,” asserts Kristen. “I would love to run another marathon one day.” Kristen is also taking online courses to get back to her work in interior design and become certified in kitchen and bath design. Kristen’s mother also expresses her sentiments for the Cary Grossman Health and Wellness Center at Jupiter Medical Center, “It’s a magical place. We are so grateful.”