MS patient determined to get out of wheelchair, walks 5K

Pat Bristoe, who coached youth football for decades, needed a wheelchair or mobility scooter to get around. Follow his journey to walking a 5K.

When Pat Bristoe began physical therapy at Norton Specialty Rehabilitation Center – St. Matthews in October 2021, he was depressed. Multiple sclerosis (MS), a diagnosis Pat received in 2009, had taken a toll on his body. For years, he managed the disease’s symptoms with medications, but as time went on his condition worsened.

“I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know anything about it,” Pat said. “I started having issues. MS started saying, ‘Hey, I’m here.’ Next thing you know, I’m in rehab.”

Eventually Pat, who coached youth football for decades, found himself needing a wheelchair or mobility scooter just to get around. When a person has MS, the immune system causes communication issues between the brain and the rest of the body.

While medication can help, doctors also recommend people living with MS practice a healthy lifestyle.

“People living with MS can consider physical activity and diet as another kind of medicine,” said Geeta A. Ganesh, M.D., neurologist and MS specialist with Norton Neuroscience Institute. “Wellness is essential to modifying the disease course, treating relapses, managing symptoms and promoting safety and independence.”

Pat was motivated to improve his health, so he started physical therapy at Norton Healthcare last fall. By that time, he could barely get out of his chair.

“Fatigue doesn’t even do it justice on how tired you are,” Pat said. “You can’t even raise your arm.”

Putting in the work and getting results

When physical therapist Abby Scinta first saw Pat at the specialty rehabilitation center, she knew there was a lot of work to do. She also quickly realized Pat was willing to put in the effort.

“The more I worked with him, the more I knew how hard he worked at home; then I raised my expectations a little bit,” Abby said.

For months, Pat and Abby worked together. The therapy was difficult, but they quickly saw improvement. In fact, Pat had a goal. He wanted to walk a 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) event.

“I felt if I worked hard enough, I could make it happen,” Pat said.

It wasn’t easy. When Pat started training at the Big Four Bridge in downtown Louisville, he could do only a portion of the walking bridge. But he kept coming back, and eventually willed his way to doing the entire bridge.

The training culminated in his first 5K in April 2022, just six months after beginning therapy.

He even took the medal he received from the 5K to his next therapy appointment to show Abby.

“I probably didn’t think he would be doing 5Ks within six months,” Abby said. “But it shows Pat’s determination and his desire to put in the work.”

“Everybody has to find their why,” he said. “Why do you do something? Why, why am I doing it? Because I like to stand up. I like to walk. I like to go.”

Though Pat will have to continue living with MS, his efforts in physical therapy and exercising at home have helped him reclaim independence. He continues to walk regularly is and hoping to get back into coaching.

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