In 1990 Linda Hearn, fresh out of college and newly married, relocated to Alabama from Topeka, Kan., when her husband, Mark Hearn, accepted a job at Jacksonville State University teaching business management. Linda found work at the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce as the membership director.
On a cold night in December, just a few months after the couple had settled into their new community, Mark headed to JSU to teach an evening class while Linda went to the gym.
A fitness junkie, Linda enjoys swimming, cycling — she even attended college on a tennis scholarship — “but running is my passion,” she said.
That night, as she was running on a treadmill, she suddenly lost feeling in her left leg. Pulling herself off the treadmill, she realized her left arm was going numb as well.
“I was so scared,” she said. “I called Mark in a panic.”
Early testing indicated a serious nerve blockage and after a week-long stay in a Birmingham hospital, the diagnosis was official: Linda had multiple sclerosis.
Normally the immune system targets and destroys foreign invaders that can cause illness, but an autoimmune disease can sometimes cause the system to mistakenly attack normal tissue. In the case of multiple sclerosis, it attacks the central nervous system, preventing the brain and spinal cord from communicating.
Linda was placed on a pharmaceutical regimen that required at-home injections of a drug called Betaseron, which Mark has given her every other day for the 23 years since.
Linda credits early intervention for keeping her symptoms under control, allowing her to continue with the intense physical activities she loves, including marathons and triathlons.
The only time she didn’t receive the medication was when she was pregnant.
“We were warned that I shouldn’t take the drug and be pregnant at the same time,” Linda explained. “It was a big risk for me to come off the medicine, but that’s how much we wanted children.”
Today Mark and Linda are parents to 17-year-old Braden and 14-year-old Rebecca. As soon as both children were born, mom resumed her regular injections — until last summer when a new medication hit the market. Tecfidera offers the same benefits as Betaseron, but in pill form.
“No more needles,” Linda said with a smile.
The same tenacity and determination she has for her family and her health, she applies to her career with the Chamber of Commerce where she will celebrate her 25th anniversary next year.
“I’m just as passionate about promoting Calhoun County as I am about sports,” Linda said. And it shows in her advancement through the ranks where she has gone from membership director to business development director to chamber manager.
Despite her successes, Linda says she never forgets about her medical condition: “It’s with me all the time; I think about it every single day.”
And should she forget, her body reminds her.
“When I’m running, and I push myself too far, my leg will shake,” she said. “But I’ve learned how to live with it.”
With steady medication, Linda’s disease is in a state of remission — she hasn’t had an episode in 20 years, but she knows there are no guarantees for the future.
“The uncertainty I felt when I was first diagnosed is still with me after all these years, but I stay focused on more positive thoughts and I never give up hope,” she said. “That’s the message I want to share with others who have MS: Don’t ever give up hope.”