A graduate student at Missouri State has inspired others with a simple act: walking. KSMU’s Taylor Brim talked with the young adult about life with Multiple Sclerosis and her journey from a wheelchair to walking again.
Maria Christodoulou, a graduate student at Missouri State University, does not like being told what to do. That’s why whenever doctors told her she would never walk again after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, she refused to listen.
“I was very stubborn. I was very determined to walk,” Christodoulou recalls.
It was only a few months before Christodoulou was to receive her undergraduate degree when the debilitating disease began to eat away at her immune system, causing her leg to give out at random. On her 22nd birthday, she decided to visit the emergency room. The symptoms of multiple sclerosis, or MS, were quickly recognized and shortly after, Christodoulou was informed she would be wheelchair bound for the rest of her life. This did not sit well.
“I was not going to be in a wheelchair. I did not want to learn how to live to be in a wheelchair. I had plans and I was going to work to walk again.”
Now at 27, Christadoulou is working towards a Master’s in Graphic Design at Missouri State and walking to each of her classes. It is a simple act that thousands of university students do daily, but has Christadoulou’s doctors in awe.
MS is when the body’s immune system begins to eats away at the protective sheath that covers the nerves. As a result, this damage causes its victims to lose the ability to walk and in severe cases, talk. Christodoulou was originally diagnosed with an elevated level of MS. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, this level leaves a majority of its victims with a nearly continuous worsening of the disease from the onset, which falls in line with the Primary Progressive type of the disease. Statistics show about half of people diagnosed with Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis don’t ever walk again.
Christodoulou attributes her miraculous success to an unlikely factor, stubbornness.
“It’s like teenagers when you’re like, ‘No, you cannot pierce your nose’. Well, now I want to pierce my nose! Now I’m going to pierce my nose, and my eyebrow, and my lip!” Christodoulou explained. “But because they said, ‘No, you’re probably not going to walk again’, I was like, you know what, no. It made me mad.”
Christodoulou was in rehabilitation for several years before walking out. During this time, physical therapists encouraged her to purchase a wheelchair and prepare for the worst. Christodoulou’s mother, Margaret Mondo, says the wheelchair is sitting in their house, untouched.
“I think about being stubborn, she never really had a choice because she is Greek and Italian, and those are pretty hard headed people. But she knows how to restrain it when she needs to,” Mondo says about her daughter.
Christadoulou said it was hard work learning how to walk again, but worth the look on people’s faces.
“I didn’t walk out like a normal person, I still had a cane and I used the railings, but I did,” Christodoulou said. “You know, they were still trying to convince me, ‘Maybe we should use the wheelchair’. No! No! I will do this, even if it’s three steps over the threshold. Then out of the wheelchair, three steps, then back in the wheelchair. I still use that threshold. I still walked out, technically. I still did it. From one side of the building to the other, I walked. Even if it was three steps.”
Her story has inspired others, including those with MS. Christodoulou began to document her journey on YouTube, which has received over 50,000 page views. One person that particularly looks up to Christodoulou is her younger sister, Noelle.
“It’s also something that I think kind of molded me going through that with her, because my sister has always been my best friend,” Noelle said. “She is my best friend and it was very hard having her go through that. But, you know, it made her stronger and it made me stronger just because of it.”
Christadoulou plans to earn her master’s by 2015 and then pursue a career in administration. She says learning how to overcome adversity has inspired her to pursue a career where she can help others overcome their personal struggles.