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March 19, 2013

March Madness: Former Lady ’Canes’ star battling illness head-on

NEW CASTLE — Jaleesa Sams knew something was terribly wrong.

But the former New Castle High School and North Carolina A&T basketball star prides herself in having a high tolerance for pain. Even when she was throwing up and too fatigued to get off the couch, Sams was determined to tough it out.

She had awakened earlier that Jan. 26 morning with no feeling on her left side. But the current grad assistant coach at A&T attributed that to possible after effects of participating with players in a strenuous team drill the night before. Jaleesa thought she might have a slipped disc or a pinched nerve.

But then there were the flu symptoms.

“I’m not the type of person who gets sick very often,” she said.

Sams called her mother, Donna, who after hearing all the symptoms described, urged her daughter to get to the emergency room.

“I was more scared than anything, Jaleesa said. “I’d never had anything this drastic happen to me.”

Losing sight in one eye convinced Jaleesa this was not a pain tolerance issue. She needed friends to carry her from her house to the car for transportation to Duke Medical Center.

After some testing, Jaleesa was given a spinal tap. It was then doctors discovered the problem — Multiple Sclerosis. The disease was in Jaleesa’s genes as her late maternal grandmother has suffered from it.

THE CHALLENGE

MS is an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system). According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine website, MS is caused by damage to the myelin sheath, the protective covering that surrounds nerve cells. When this nerve covering is damaged, nerve signals slow down or stop.

MS affects more women than men and is most commonly diagnosed between ages 20 and 40.

There is no known cure for multiple sclerosis, but there are therapies that may slow the disease. The goal of treatment is to control symptoms and help maintain a normal quality of life.

Jaleesa fits the description of those who have best outlook. That would be females under 30 with infrequent attacks.

While most return to normal or near-normal function between attacks, there can be a greater loss of function and some will later require a wheelchair.

But anyone who thought such a blow would overwhelm Jaleesa, doesn’t know her. “I’m not going to let it get me down,” she said. “It can cripple you, but I’m so blessed because they caught in the early stages.

“If I continue to eat healthy, I can have a full life,” she said.

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