NorthShore Expertise Helps Diagnose and Treat an Unpredictable Disease

A full-time working mom and wife, Shanita Swift prides herself on successfully juggling her personal and professional lives—even at those times when she must put others before herself. But five years ago the typically smooth rhythm of Swift’s life changed. The 41-year-old Evanston woman began experiencing severe pain that stymied even the most talented physicians, leaving her baffled.

“I had pain in my jaw that would switch sides and felt like stabs from a sword,” recalled Swift. “I had headaches that knocked me out and weakness in my hips.” She saw several physicians, but a walk-in appointment with NorthShore internist David Levine, MD, helped her begin finding answers to her inexplicable symptoms.

Through personal research, Swift suspected she had multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic disease that attacks the central nervous system—including brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. Dr. Levine referred her to NorthShore Neurological Institute (NNI) neurologist Afif Hentati, MD, who holds an academic appointment at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine.

MS can be difficult to diagnose because there is no definitive test, Dr. Hentati said. Diagnosis is based on several criteria. Symptoms can vary, and Swift also had chronic inflammation not consistent with MS. “What led me to look more into her case were her gait problems,” said Dr. Hentati. “Her neurological exam was normal, but you always listen to the patient and think outside the box.”

After both an MRI and a spinal tap, Dr. Hentati definitively diagnosed Swift with MS. She began taking a medication to control the disease, and will be monitored annually with an MRI to prevent worsening neurologic function. The disease is unpredictable, so ongoing management of symptoms is critical, said Dr. Hentati. With online access through NorthShoreConnect, Swift  easily manages her appointments online and stays apprised of test results.

Today, Swift is back to her smooth rhythm—working out, managing her symptoms, and spending time with her husband and children. She credits her new outlook on life to her Jehovah’s Witnesses faith and NorthShore physician expertise. “Dr. Hentati really listened,” she said. “My life was changed because of him.”

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