Hello,  my name is Matthew Lahey. I am a 36 year old accountant, proudly from the most-eastern part of the most-eastern province in Canada. After way too many years of partying, I thought my lifestyle was starting to catch up with me. In 2016 I had my first encounter with health issues. I was suffering from horrible pain in my shoulders, neck, wrists and legs.  I was getting different tests done regularly to determine what was going on.  After five months, including a stretch where I was bedridden and could barely go outside for weeks, things started to go back to normal. Or at least close to normal.  I never did feel the same after this episode, for lack of a better term. My doctors could never determine the cause.

Things went back to normalish, but I never felt the same as I did before. It felt as though this episode in 2016 left its mark on me.  Then, in early 2018, things kicked into a whole new level.  I suddenly developed a savage migraine which lasted for six weeks while also having difficulties running across the street or walking down the stairs. While shaving one morning I was alarmed when I could not feel the razor against the left side of my face and throat. My strength had decreased significantly and I would awaken 4-5 times a night to use the washroom. Throughout all of my issues I would read different things online to try and self-diagnose myself. There were so many endless possibilities on the table, but there was only one I was too afraid of to ever read into further: Multiple Sclerosis. One day I took a deep breath and summoned the courage to ask my General Practitioner if this could be MS. He assured me that it was not and I was just suffering from migraines. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

After weekly and sometimes semi-weekly visits to the GP which would only result in prescriptions for different pain relievers, the headaches became so severe that I snapped and threw a gel ice pack against my living room wall, causing it to explode and cover the walls and floors in blue. I took an Uber to the ER at the UofA where the Doctor referred me to a Neurologist, whom I was fortunate to see just a few days later. The Neurologist ordered an MRI, which was booked for December (this was occurring in June). I could not suffer through another six months of this so I paid out-of-pocket for an MRI at a private clinic.

Three days later I saw the Neurologist again. I was expecting he would tell me I had something wrong with a nerve in my neck and I would have to receive lidocaine injections every two months for the rest of my life. I can even recall thinking to myself “man that sucks, that is such an inconvenience. This is so unfair.” I shake my head and roll my eyes every time I recall that thought.

The Doctor turned off the lights in the exam room and opened my MRI images on the computer. He told me to pull my chair closer. I am an Accountant and have never taken a Biology course in my life, so I had no idea what I was looking at. But what I did notice were the bright spots on my spine which probably was not a good thing. The Doctor told me these are lesions on my spinal cord and that this is consistent with Multiple Sclerosis. I waited in silence for him to add “but” and tell me I’m ok, but this did not come.  I stared straight ahead thinking to myself “this is happening …. WTF do I do? WTF do I do?” A subsequent MRI of my brain, showing more lesions, confirmed the diagnosis.

I was completely devastated, depressed and terrified. I felt alone and hopeless even though I was surrounded and supported by family and friends. I was terrified of being alone for the first couple of weeks because being left in silence with my own thoughts usually brought me to tears.

How Physio Has Helped Me

That was rock-bottom for me.  The good thing about hitting rock-bottom is it can only get better from there.  So, with help from family, friends (including the crew at Optimize Physio), and others like me in the MS Community, I decided to take control of my health and do whatever I could to give myself my best shot at living a long, healthy and active life.  On the suggestion of a friend who was once in my shoes, I adopted a largely plant-based whole-food diet, which was not easy for a life-long avid McDonald’s connoisseur.

I also became more physically active, which is not easy when you live with this disease. When I was first diagnosed, my physical strength was severely impacted.  I could barely lift 10 lb dumbbells over my head.  The inflammation in my body was at an all-time high
and I was having difficulty executing some basic movements. This is where the crew at Optimize stepped in and have helped me significantly.  Through regular physio
treatments with Aaron and Arri in the first couple of years post-diagnosis, as well as ongoing exercise-coaching, I was able to recover much of the strength and mobility that
I had lost, as well as relieve inflammation and pain that comes with the territory of living with this chronic illness.  I also started to see Melissa for Manual Osteopath treatments, which I would recommend for ANYONE living with a chronic, inflammatory condition.  After each Osteopath treatment I leave feeling like a million bucks, which is a rarity for me. It feels like I am taking a car with 200,000 km (that’s how I feel sometimes) in for its
very first oil change).  But sometimes your heart has the will to do things but your body won’t comply.  That is how I feel when I run. 

I cannot count how many times in the few years that I have gone for a run in the River Valley and ended up tripping or falling on
pavement.  It does not just hurt physically (and it really does when I drive my knees into the ground), but it takes a toll mentally and emotionally too. It’s hard to get back on the horse and go for a run the next day when the thought of another spill is front and centre
in my mind. So this year I have worked extensively with Anastasia, Optimize’s newest Physiotherapist, who has gone above and beyond the call of duty to help me. Not only has she tailored a recovery program to address my specific problems, but she has even
gone for a run with me to monitor what is going on in my legs, and has even helped me in sneaker-shopping to buy the best athletic gear to accommodate to my weaknesses.

The MS Bike Tour

Optimize also teams up with me annually for the MS Bike Tour. This is normally (in non- Covid years) a two-day, 180 km ride from Leduc to Camrose and back.  Due to COVID,
participation in both 2020 and 2021 has been largely “Virtual,” meaning teams and riders could participate where, when and how they chose.  Team Optimize first took part in this event in 2019 with eight-riders.  We then participated “virtually” last year with 10 members riding laps around Edmonton over two-days. We will be riding the same 180-km route on September 18/19 this year.

The MS Bike Tour is a nationwide event with different rides scheduled in different major cities across the country. The Edmonton-area ride is the largest in terms of both the # of riders and the funds raised.  In two years, Team Optimize has raised over $36,000, with our sights set on a cumulative total of $50,000 for this year. That blows my mind to think about and it’s hard to not shed a few tears.  It is so uplifting to see my friends put themselves through two days of this to support myself and my cause. And then to see friends of friends, and some people I had never met before sign up and ride with us and fundraise … that is the type of stuff that gives me hope that we will one day find a cure for this disease.  Progress is being made every day in treatments for the disease.  I will never forget when I was diagnosed, my doctor showed me a list of treatment options on his screen. He said “this is what we have available today.” He then covered up about 3/4 of the list and said “this is what we had 4 years ago.”  That sunk in deep with me on the spot.  And that progress is because of events like this, and the hard-work and sacrifices that normal people are making to put themselves through two hard days to raise the money needed to fund research and clinical trials. It’s because of fundraising efforts like these by people living with this disease who came before me, along with their friends, family and support groups, that changed the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis from having a dark and maybe hopeless outlook to one where I know if I fight hard, I can and will get through this. My hope is that through our fundraising efforts today, a diagnosis in 5-10 years from now will have even less of an impact on someone’s life, and that eventually the disease will be quickly treated on diagnosis with no further progression. That is why I absolutely love the MS Bike Tour and it has become one of my top moments of the year (alongside NFL Week 1).

Our team is still growing and we would absolutely love it if you could join us on our 4 spins around the Edmonton River Valley and surrounding area in September. It is a great-weekend and a ton of fun. It can seem daunting, but the team nature of it all makes it so much easier. We ride as a crew and we celebrate afterwards as a crew.

If you are unable to ride with us, then please consider donating to the MS Society to support the cause.  All donations are tax-deductible.  I am eternally grateful for every dollar contributed. Together we can End MS! Thanks for reading!  

— Matt