Four years ago, Kelly Dowless wasn’t too concerned when her legs grew weak. At age 31, the schoolteacher was puzzled, but the pain was minimal.
“I thought they’d give me some medication and I’d go home,” she said.
The diagnosis, however, was serious. A rare neurological disorder called transverse myelitis was damaging her spinal cord. Her condition began to worsen almost by the minute. By that same afternoon, Dowless was paralyzed from the chest down.
“She had to go through a period of mourning because she lost the ability to walk, and it changed her entire life,” her mother, Marilyn Pearce said. “She had to become dependent on people.”
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Dowless said it took her six months to a year after leaving the hospital to find her “new life,” one that she said is rooted in faith and family. Today, instead of teaching the ABCs at West View Elementary School in the Cleveland community, she teaches about Jesus at her church in Raleigh. And while managing pain is an everyday chore, medication allows her to keep up with her kids’ busy schedules.
Raising funds, awareness
Dowless wants others stricken with the same disease to realize that it can’t touch their spirit. She’ll have a chance to do that next year during the inaugural “Barefoot for Kelly” road race in Raleigh.
The race, organized by friend and fellow church member Kelley Blas, will look to raise money and awareness for transverse myelitis.
Proceeds from the race, scheduled for July 11 on the Dorthea Dix campus, will also help pay for a new handicap-accessible shower in the Dowless home, something Blas said her friend desperately needs.
“The first thing Kelly said is that she didn’t want it to be about her; she wanted it to be about everyone else,” Blas said. “She is so humble.”
During the past four years, medical bills and other monthly obligations have stretched the family’s dollars thin.
After spending four months in the hospital in 2010, Dowless said, she returned to a home not equipped for someone in a wheelchair. She’s adjusted, but the family can’t afford the improvements that would make mobility easier, she said.
Her wheelchair can’t fit into the shower, so making it to a bench in the tub can be challenging. Her husband, Ronald, who had lifted his wife in and out of the shower, recently injured his back. That makes things around the house harder.
Social networking with other victims of the disease has helped.
Dowless said a Facebook transverse myelitis, or TM, support group has played a large role in her recovery, both physically and emotionally.
“We kind of get on there and say, ‘Is this normal?’ or ‘Has anyone ever experienced this?’ ” Dowless said. “But we also get on there to complain and vent so they don’t vent to family.”
For more information on the “Barefoot for Kelly” road race, go to www.runnc.com/e/Barefoot-for-Kelly-5K.