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Moments: Multiple sclerosis “doesn't have to change everything”

After her multiple sclerosis diagnosis, Breana fought to take her life back with the help of the care team from University of Minnesota Health Multiple Sclerosis program.
After her multiple sclerosis diagnosis, Breana Kochmann fought to take her life back with the help of the care team from University of Minnesota Health Multiple Sclerosis program.

Growing up, Breana Kochmann took pride in her athleticism.

Basketball, volleyball, softball. No matter the sport or the position, Breana was one of the strongest junior varsity athletes on the field.

But that began to change in ninth grade. Her well-honed reflexes began to slow. She grew fatigued easily and spent more time on the bench. Over time, her team members’ skills blossomed, while her own abilities only seemed to worsen.

Around her, friends began to wonder: Why did Breana have such butter fingers?

The answer was heartbreaking.

Mystery illness
Breana’s health problems started in eighth grade, when she woke up one morning with double vision. She was unconcerned at first, and convinced herself it was a fluke that would go away. But her vision didn’t return to normal.

Over the next six months, Breana saw a primary care physician, an ophthalmologist and a neurologist. They performed test after test, looking for diabetes, myasthenia gravis disorder and any other conditions that could be responsible for Breana’s symptoms. One by one, the test results came back negative for any abnormalities. In between visits, Breana’s symptoms stopped and life returned to normal. One doctor wrote off the double vision as idiopathic. There were no clear answers.

Six months later, the double vision returned. Again, Breana and her parents visited health specialists, including former University of Minnesota Health Neuro-Ophthalmologist Howard Pomeranz, MD. During that visit, Breana underwent a test that measures the brain’s response time to visual stimuli. Our experts discovered an abnormality in Breana’s results. Pomeranz ordered another MRI, followed by a lumbar puncture.

The results came in. Breana was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Not a “normal” kid
It took weeks for Breana’s diagnosis to sink in. Health care providers explained the injections and therapy she would need, but their words didn’t always register. Breana was resilient, an athlete used to overcoming physical challenges.

But her athletic ability declined. Exertion, she learned, would make her MS symptoms worse. She quit basketball after ninth grade. She stuck with softball longer, but after she told her coach about her diagnosis, they treated her with caution and benched her more often. Eventually, Breana was unable to downplay her diagnosis.

“It definitely caught up to me later,” she said. “I just remember being terrified. There were so many ‘what ifs.’ And there was the fact that I wasn’t really a normal kid anymore.”

Turning point
Breana took up piano and volunteering to replace sports, but she struggled with depression related to her condition.

Breana’s turning point finally came in her 20s, when she attended her first MS convention and got involved with MS Lifelines, a support organization for those diagnosed with MS. There, she met many who were succeeding in spite of their MS. Through her involvement in Lifelines, she was also introduced to University of Minnesota Health Neurologist Gary Beaver, DO and Care Coordinator Sandra Lidberg, RN, MSCN.

Lidberg and Beaver are both members of the University of Minnesota Health multiple sclerosis program, which focuses on long-term MS care, treatment of acute relapses, symptom management and immunotherapy. They became Breana’s regular providers.

Learn more about our multiple sclerosis program. 

“Anytime there is something significant going on [with my MS], I feel like my first reaction is to go to Sandra and Dr. Beaver,” Breana said. “I feel like I’m with the best; they are the experts on this.”

Over the years, the care team at the MS program has helped Breana manage her MS and meet her goals—including her desire to run and be active once more.

Now a college graduate with steady employment in the Twin Cities, Breana has recently completed a 10K race, and has her eyes on a 10-mile run next.

“Looking back, I never thought I’d be able to run a mile,” she said. “I thought I’d have to give up on so many things that I wanted to do.”

“But now I have that never-give-up attitude. [MS] doesn’t have to change everything.”