Army veteran with MS finds second chance

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For the second time in her life, Jamila Kendall feels called to serve.

"I truthfully believe this is a journey I've been placed on by God,” she says.

It's a journey that has taken her from the U.S. Army to Morehouse School of Medicine, where she's a third year medical student.

"I loved the military, and I love everything that I have been through with the military,” Kendall says. “ I wouldn't change it for the world because it makes me who I am."

Yet, Kendall’s time as an Army labor and delivery nurse proved tougher than she expected,  when she started having strange symptoms, like fatigue and pain that would come and go, and burning and tingling in her fingers

"I could, like, draw a line down my body and one half was numb,” she remembers. “And, I couldn't feel it at all."

When the pain made it hard to work, she says she felt pushback.

"Because I was so healthy and fit, none of the labs came back abnormal,” Kendall says.  “So, obviously I'm making it up, and something else must be wrong, like psych problems."

Finally, after 4 years of searching for an answer, an MRI revealed Kendall has M-S, or Multiple Sclerosis. 

The diagnosis actually brought relief.

"It felt great to just know, 'Okay, it's not in your head. Something really does exist,'" she says.

Dr. Ben Thrower,  Medical Director of the Andrew C. Carlos MS Institute at Shepherd Center, says MS is an autoimmune disorder, in which the body mistakenly attacks and strips away the insulation, or myelin, around nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord.  But MS symptoms are so different from person to person, it can be hard to diagnose.

"For instance, one of the most common symptoms we see in Multiple Sclerosis is fatigue,” Dr. Thrower says.  “So, if you come into your doctor’s office and say, 'Doc, I'm really tired,' MS may not be the first thing that people think of."

Medically-retired from the Army,  Jamila found her second calling, this time as a future doctor.

"It forced me more to say, 'This is your goal, this is your niche, you have to go back. Because you can make a difference in other people's lives,'" she says.

She's now balancing medical school and treatment. 

One day, she’s studying through her monthly infusion of Tysabri, a drug designed to hold her MS a bay.

The next, Kendall is shadowing a doctor at the Atlanta VA Medical Center, where she was once a patient. 

And living with MS is work.

"That's the thing with MS.  It's a forever changing disease,” Kendall says.  “And every time you feel like you get a hold on it, you lose control again."

But Dr. Thrower says Jamila Kendall can do this, fulfill her dream to become a doctor.

"Our goal for someone diagnosed with MS is, whatever your life plans are, don't change them,” Thrower says.

Kendall hopes to become a face for people with invisible disabilities, the challenges you can’t see.

"My biggest thing is trying to be a role model for other people in my situation,” she says.  “Letting them know it's not the end of the world.  And I like to say, 'I have MS, MS does not have me.'"