News

New mum opens up about living with MS

By Jamie Lowe

Allie O’Dwyer was officially diagnosed with the degenerative disease multiple sclerosis at the age of 25, but she believes she has suffered symptoms since she was 16.

The now 36 year-old, who made Blighty her home in 2017, said the ‘‘episodes’’ she experiences as part of the neurological disease are ‘‘quite terrifying’’ and impact greatly on her day to day life.

But Mrs O’Dwyer is choosing to push through the limitations imposed on her by the disease once again, by participating in the MS 24-Hour Mega Swim in Fitzroy next Friday, February 28.

Funds raised from the event will go towards the MS financial assistance program and Go for Gold scholarships, providing services to directly benefit people living with multiple sclerosis.

‘‘I was fine one day, and then the next I just wasn’t able to speak,’’ Mrs O’Dwyer said of the moment that lead to her MS diagnoses.

‘‘In my head I knew what was going on and what I wanted to say, but I just couldn’t vocalise it.

‘‘The doctors did their tests and scans and gave me the diagnosis, and said I had MS.

‘‘It was scary to admit what was happening.

‘‘After my diagnosis I had complications with multiple medications and my neurologist said tysabri infusion was my last hope.

‘‘If that didn’t work I would end up in a wheelchair within five years, and I was not going to let that happen.

‘‘The tysabri infusion has helped shrink the lesions in my brain with no side effects.

‘‘Before I was diagnosed I had an episode every two years, usually in December when it was really hot. In the past eight years I’ve only had one episode.

‘‘Without the support of my bosses Keith and Jenny Downes, allowing me to take time off work to attend monthly infusions, I wouldn’t be where I am today. For that I am grateful.’’

Prior to the diagnosis, Mrs O’Dwyer and her husband Ron — who is the grandson of Blighty’s Barbara and Lofty O’Dwyer — were making plans to travel to Canada to visit family for their first ever white Christmas.

The money they’d been putting aside was instead needed for everyday expenses while they came to grips with the diagnoses and the battle ahead of them.

She hopes they can revisit that trip to see family later this year, thanks to the MS Go for Gold scholarships.

The O’Dwyers are planning to take their four month old daughter Savannah to Hawaii, where they will meet up with their Canadian family.

‘‘I’ve lived with MS for more than 10 years and the cost of medications and my symptoms have meant our financial situation has been challenging at times,’’ she said.

‘‘Having Savannah has put another perspective on my situation.

‘‘Nobody in my family history has had MS, but now I am a mother I want to put more emphasis on looking out for warning signs and symptoms.

‘‘In my case I lost my vision, lost use of the left side of my body, lost use of my right hand and had migraines.

‘‘Everyone is different though and present different symptoms.

‘‘Nobody had told me about MS or the warning signs, so I had to find out by myself.

‘‘What I want to do is encourage everyone that suffers from symptoms similar to mine or have things happen that are out of the ordinary to let someone know and get it checked by the doctor.’’

Next weekend’s MS 24-Hour Mega Swim will be Mrs O’Dwyer’s seventh in the event’s 20 year history.

At the event teams swim in relays for 24 hours to support people living with multiple sclerosis.

Mrs O’Dwyer’s team is the MS Floaties and she said she had been proud to contribute so much to the cause since her first swim in 2014.

‘‘I love to go and catch up with other people that have MS at the swims,’’ she said.

‘‘The event is friendship-based, fun and has an amazing atmosphere.

‘‘I enjoy the swim because it is an activity that I can actually do. I have participated in the Kiss Goodbye to MS river walks in Deniliquin too the last two years too, but walking is quite taxing on me.

‘‘The swim is also a great chance to educate people about the Go for Gold scholarships, which I am keen to promote further.

‘‘I personally heard about the scholarship through a peer support group, and from that point I decided to get involved and help raise funds and awareness.

‘‘The scholarship has been life-changing for me, enabling me to achieve a goal of travel that otherwise wouldn’t be possible for my family and I.

‘‘I recommend people with MS to apply for a scholarship no matter what their dream or situation is, as it’s there to help people with MS achieve a goal.’’

Mrs O’Dwyer’s ultimate goal is to bring a 24 hour swim event to Deniliquin.

‘‘I started looking into organising a swim here last year, but when I found out I was pregnant I decided put a pause on those plans,’’ she said.

‘‘Now I’m back in the process of trying to organise this.

‘‘Hopefully I can get the support of Edward River Council, the local pool and other organisations.

‘‘I’m also looking at securing sponsors for the event to get the ball rolling.’’

To donate to Mrs O’Dwyer fundraising tally for next weekend’s swim, go to www.msmegaswim.org.au/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=13568.