Although at 12, Emily Rexrode isn’t technically even a teenager, in many aspects, she’s been an adult for years.
Diagnosed with Multiple sclerosis in 2010, the bubbly Mount Jackson local displays a maturity not typically expected of a tween. Knowledgeable about the condition, she speaks confidently about its symptoms and medications, as well as her concerns for the future.
“She kind of had to grow up fast,” remarked Emily’s mother, Karey Rexrode.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Multiple Sclerosis — commonly known as MS — is a chronic, often disabling disease wherein the body’s own defense system attacks myelin, the fatty substance that surrounds and protects the nerve fibers in the central nervous system.
The most common symptoms include fatigue, numbness, walking difficulty, vision problems, pain, emotional changes, cognitive changes, dizziness and spasticity.
Emily first started experiencing symptoms in 2008, when she lost vision in one of her eyes while swimming at the pool. A few days later, at the emergency room, Emily recalls comforting her panicked mother.
“She was bawling,” said Emily. “I was like, ‘Calm down.’ ”
After a year-and-a-half of incorrect diagnoses and extensive medical testing, including MRIs, blood work and a spinal tap, the doctors reached a conclusion: Emily has MS.
“It was good to know; I think it made me feel better,” she recalled. “Anytime you’re sick, you get relief just [in] knowing.”
With the help of daily injections, Emily’s currently in remission, meaning her only symptoms are mild ones, such as fatigue and heat sensitivity. With a few adjustments, she says she’s still capable of the activities she loves, from camping with her family to playing softball.
However, she lives with the knowledge that a relapse can potentially occur at any moment.
“I do wonder what it’s going to be like and how hard it’s going to be [in the future],” she acknowledged.
Between balancing MS with schoolwork and extracurricular activities, Emily has plenty on her plate, yet she still finds time to work for a cure.
Pointing out that others might “get a disease and go on with life,” her father — Jeff Rexrode — says he’s proud of his daughter’s ambition.
“She gets involved with anything with the MS society,” he praised.
On April 19, she participated in the Walk MS event held in Harrisonburg. Emily fundraised beforehand, collecting about $1,500 for the NMSS.
One of her major contributors was the New Market Eagles Ladies Auxiliary, who presented Emily with a check for $560 on April 9. Carol Kagey, the president of the LEA, says the organization wanted to donate in part because of the great admiration they have for Emily.
“When she got diagnosed with MS, she didn’t let it get her down,” remarked Kagey. “A lot of adults could learn from her.”
Emily adds that her family walks not only to raise funds, but also awareness.
Karey agrees, pointing out that MS isn’t particularly well-known.
“The Relay for Life gets a lot of attention, as it should, but a lack of publicity [for MS] is an issue,” said Karey. “It doesn’t happen to as many people [as cancer] but I feel that those [affected] still deserve to be understood.”
Donations are still being collected to benefit Emily’s Buddies. To donate, visit nationalmssociety.org/donate, click “Support an Event Participant” and search “Emily Rexrode.”
Contact Katie King at (540) 574-6271 or firstname.lastname@example.org