MATTESON, IL — For most of her life, Jasmine "Jazz" Matthews ruled basketball courts, a lights-out shooter who could stick a three-pointer and play lock-down defense.
These days, Matthews' hardcourt accomplishments are faded memories. At 26, Matthews faces a new opponent, her toughest foe yet. Multiple sclerosis took away her ability to walk on her own and crushed her dream of becoming an NCAA referee.
During a recent physical therapy session at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab Outpatient & DayRehab Center Burr Ridge, Jasmine kneeled on a padded bed, her arms on a large yellow exercise ball. Physical therapist Mansi Thakkar steadied her hips and calls out the commands, prompting Jasmine to use her arms to push her body up off the ball. Jasmine's face was emotionless as Thakkar counted — one, two, three, four — until her coach hit 15. She grimaced, and lowered herself on the ball.
"Maybe next time we'll go for 20," Thakkar said as Jasmine rested. In a few seconds, Thakkar started to count again. Jasmine pushed her arms against the ball, lifting herself and holding her weight as the count grew.
"Seventeen!" Thakkar said. "Oh you got it!"
Jasmine blew past 20 seconds with only an occasional strained expression. As Thakkar reached a count of 35 she finally rests. Next time up the count reached 50 before her arms gave way.
It's the same kind of steady progress Matthews has shown since the day more than a year ago when she first started working with Stacey Lane, a doctor of physical therapy at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab facility.
"When I first started working with her she could barely get herself up from a lying position. She couldn't voluntarily and independently move from position to position," Lane said. "Since then it's remarkable."
Just as scientists can't pinpoint a cause of MS, Jasmine said she's not sure what's behind her progress in recent months. Maybe it's the infusions of the chemotherapy drug cytoxan she gets every month or so. Maybe it's the physical therapy. Maybe it was her decision late last year to become a vegan — a big deal for a young woman who loved her steaks and chicken and burgers.
"I don't know what is helping. It could be a combination of those things … and maybe God, she said. "You don't know."
Lane credits Jasmine's history as an athlete with her success in physical therapy.
"I tell her all the time she's very coachable," Lane said. She takes direction well, continues her therapy with exercises at home after she leaves the sessions and she refuses to give up — even on the toughest days when her disease leaves her wiped out.
"When people are faced with adversity at such a young age, it does take some of that fortitude," Lane said. "She's not just going to give up. She doesn't see it as an option to not walk. She's going to walk — she has that in her mindset."