Diagnosed as bipolar and autistic while still a child, Bridget Morris grew up with a host of developmental problems. That’s why, when she was tested for Friedreich’s ataxia (FA) at age 10, her mother, a nurse, was “very cavalier.”
Bridget had muscle tightness, weakness and scoliosis (a curved spine), her handwriting was worsening, and she had begun to fall and walk with a “wide” gait to steady herself. Nevertheless, her mother was shocked when told her daughter had FA.
“When I think of that moment on the phone, hearing those impossible words, I still feel an icy chill in my bones, and the hairs on the back of my neck stand up,” Alicia Morris says.
Growing up, Bridget could be engaging and witty, and was good at languages, especially Russian and French. She learned to read and write in Cyrillic and can read Chekov in Russian. Yet she also could be aggressive and combative, and needed physical, speech and occupational therapy. She had been on a multitude of prescription mental health drugs since kindergarten, which is one reason her mother initially discounted the idea that Bridget also had muscle disease.
“We used to think FA was the least of our problems,” Alicia Morris says. “Not anymore.”
Now 20, Bridget, of Littleton, Mass., attends a residential school for children with special needs and gets around in a manual wheelchair. Her speech has slowed a bit, but she so far has escaped heart problems, diabetes, and vision or hearing problems, which are frequent symptoms of FA.
Her mother advises other parents of children with FA to get support from an FA parent group, and to take family trips as soon as possible, because traveling can be more difficult once FA symptoms progress.
She says she has a lot of hope about the progress of research in FA, and encourages other FA families to get involved in fundraising and to participate in studies, where appropriate.
“Working hard toward a cure gives purpose and a goal to something over which we have no real control,” notes Bridget's mom, Alicia.