GTCC grad Sierra Hairston perseveres against setbacks brought on by MS

Published on: June 13, 2022
GTCC graduate Sierra Hairston
GTCC graduate Sierra Hairston has become an MS activist, content creator, and volunteer.

Life has thrown many roadblocks in Sierra Hairston's direction, but with hard work and faith, she always figured out a way to roll right past them and maintain control of her life.

In the winter of 2016, this Guilford Technical Community College graduate began to fall down occasionally. First, she brushed it off, chalking it up to clumsiness.

A month later, the symptoms worsened for Hairston, who had recently finished graduate school and was working as a clinical social worker. In addition to the falls, she began to experience vertigo and a loss of coordination in her legs. Then the nightmare hit.

"One night in February, I walked up the steps and I couldn't get in the back door. I had to have my mom help me get in bed. She's a registered nurse and she did a little assessment of me. I couldn't feel my legs.

"I was so afraid. How could I go from walking normal, having a normal life, to not having control of my body? I always made sure I took care of myself. I stayed out of trouble. I didn't put alcohol or drugs in my body. When I didn't have control of my body, it was awful."

Hairston met with her doctor and then consulted a neurologist who ran a battery of tests and ordered an MRI. The results? "I had three lesions on my brain, one the size of a grapefruit."

She was diagnosed with Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis. Her health quickly deteriorated after the diagnosis.

"I lost the ability to walk. I couldn't eat. I had a swallowing disorder. All I could eat was Ensure and soft fruit cups. My health care team, physical therapy, prayers, and support got me through it all," she said.

With an intensive regimen of treatment, plus lots of prayer and support, the three brain lesions, including the grapefruit-sized one, all but disappeared.

"I'm a spiritual person. One night after my injections, I prayed and said, ‘Tell me what I'm going to do.' Miraculously, when they gave me a second MRI in September, the lesions on the back of my brain were barely visible," Hairston said.

"My faith has gotten me through. I can't lie. I was very angry with God. How is it I got through school with no trouble? How is it I was struck down with this illness? The first year, I was very angry with God. Now my physical condition is really good. My MS is stable. I can work, can eat regularly. I have incorporated more exercise, but I still have good and bad days."

But what she knew as normal is gone from Hairston's life. She had to give up her career as a social worker. It was a dream job that started with two years of study at GTCC, then another two years at North Carolina A&T State University for a bachelor's degree, followed by two years of study at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro for a master's degree.

For two years, Hairston withdrew from the world and did very little. Her mom came to the rescue.

"My mom kept encouraging me, kept saying others are worse, and you are complaining. She kept telling me I needed to do something. She told me I should go back to GTCC and take some business courses."

It would be the second time that GTCC served as a compass of sorts for Hairston, helping her find direction.

The first time came just after Hairston graduated from high school in 2008. Most of her friends were headed off to four-year schools, and that's what Hairston had hoped to do with the social work career as her final goal. Her grades, though, would not allow her to make that move. GTCC was the next option.

"When I got to GTCC, I was so upset that I wasn't going off to school. The folks at GTCC were willing to set me down and tell me the importance of investing in my education now," Hairston said. "They helped me out so much at GTCC. I know I struggled really bad in math. I had to repeat several classes.

"Teachers were willing to sit down with me and help me. They urged me to get tutoring help. The adults in the classroom helped me focus more. They had families. They had kids, and they wanted to get it done. I stepped up my game to keep up with them."

Hairston felt right at home when she enrolled at GTCC a second time after the MS diagnosis.

"GTCC is the reason I have been so successful, and because I didn't get into the colleges I wanted to, I had to learn to work through it. When I got MS, I knew if I could do it then, I could do it now."

The 31-year-old Hairston has become an MS activist, content creator and volunteer with the goal to educate and motivate people with or without the disease by sharing her wellness journey. She has created her own YouTube channel where she says she can "reach out through the videos I put up to give advice how to cope with MS, to help show a caregiver how to take care of someone."

Hairston is taking her role as an MS activist a step further with the release of a biography later this year entitled, "Wait MS, Who Invited You To This Party?" It is a detailed look at the challenges of living with MS and how she developed resilience through adversity.

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