Suffolk YMCA regular staying positive and moving forward

Published 9:57 pm Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A member of the Suffolk Family YMCA on Godwin Boulevard has turned her life around after a harrowing diagnosis more than a decade ago.

Deborah Coppola is 60 years old and has lived in Suffolk her whole life. When she began falling and having difficulty balancing herself in 2004, she kept her concerns to herself. She didn’t want to worry her husband Paul or her two sons, 41-year-old Troy and 40-year-old Brandon Sing.

“I knew something was going on,” Coppola said. “I was scared but I was pushing it under the rug. I didn’t want to know.”

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Her condition plummeted on July 21, 2004, six days before her birthday. She was working at the Nansemond Point Nursing Home billing department when the incident began.

“I went to use the computer and my right hand wouldn’t work,” she said. “I got up to tell somebody and I was dragging my right leg.”

She was immediately taken to Sentara Obici Hospital for X-rays and MRIs. Scans of her brain revealed an aneurysm, and a rescue squad transported her to Sentara Norfolk General for more specialized care.

The doctors were convinced that her symptoms weren’t caused by the aneurysm.

“They said something else was wrong with me,” Coppola said.

That was how the doctors diagnosed her with multiple sclerosis, an unpredictable auto-immune disease that damages the central nervous system. She received surgery for her aneurysm that same year, but that was only the beginning of her trials.

“Every day has been a challenge,” she said.

She receives three injections weekly to treat her MS, and takes pills daily for seizures and to help her manage excruciating pain, she said.

“It’s horrible,” she said. “You know how they ask what level is your pain? It’s a 10.”

She experienced pain and seizures and struggled to use her right arm and leg as the years went on.

“One of my falls resulted in a broken leg,” she said.

She said it was her family that hounded her to start a structured exercise regimen that would improve her mobility and ease her struggles. She wanted to strengthen her right arm and leg to get more control, at a time when she couldn’t pick her leg up to clear the floor.

“I was reluctant to join, but I’m so glad I did,” she said.

She started working with health and wellness coordinator Donna Franklin and other FitQuest coaches in February 2016. Franklin described Coppola’s improvement as a team effort between the coaches and other gym members.

“It took a little help from us to keep her right arm stable, but now she does it on her own,” Franklin said.

Coppola comes to the gym three times a week for more than two hours of full body exercises. Chest presses, curls, rows and leg presses strengthen her extremities and improve her body control.

She’s become hooked on the gym in the process.

“She does more than her workout says to do,” Franklin said. “She calls it her playtime.”

Coppola has gained more control of her right arm and leg since she first started last year. She is still considered medically disabled and has difficulty using a keyboard, but she felt rewarded by her progress.

“I was so excited when I finally had more control of my right arm,” she said.

For years, she could not fully lie down and had to sleep in the living room recliner at home. Her first victory was being able to go to bed every night because of her progress at the gym.

“I went from sleeping in a recliner to laying down with my husband again,” she said.

She said she was grateful for all the support from God and her families both in and out of the gym.

“The support that I get from them and here is immensely encouraging,” she said. “They keep me feeling positive, and that’s always important when facing difficulty. To keep a positive attitude.”