Updated: Nov 7
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
There are days in our lives when things can completely change our perception, where people can alter how you look at the world and bring to light the unknown or overlooked struggles of those bravely battling health issues beyond their control....every day.
Today was another one of those days where someone we all know courageously & unexpectedly shined her light on a dark issue ....what was at first casual conversation turned into a day I'll never forget.
Last weekend, Tristan posted on Twitter about "family issues" preventing the Leighs from making the trip to Ohio for a Buckeyes gathering. So, I casually sent a few messages to Laura Rigney Leigh, Tristan's mom just to say "what's up" and verify rumors of Tristan's impending commitment.
I asked Laura if "all was well".
Her answer shocked me.
Laura Rigney Leigh has dealt with Multiple Sclerosis since 2011, and through most of those 9 years since her diagnosis, she's been a single mother working two jobs, providing for her children while suffering through multiple sclerosis' unimaginable pain, including injuries which would make most football players tap out.
Tristan Leigh may be a 5 Star OL with a bright NFL potential, a brother (Aidan) who isn't too far behind, and a family who's future is looking better than ever...
However, their triumphant rise was never set in stone... even a year ago...
But the Leigh Family made it happen.
In 2019, Laura worked two jobs, battled poverty while raising her three children, and paid for her daughter's college tuition all as a single mother fighting M.S, broken legs, hospital trips, juggling responsibilities, priorities, making every game she could...suffering through M.S symptoms during those games and team events...still, she was there.
She didn't have to battle alone:
Thanks to the funding from M.S awareness, the Leigh Family found the DreamMakers organization early into her diagnosis when Tristan and Aidan were still young.
Due to this improved political and scientific focus on multiple sclerosis research, Laura and her children were able to bond with other MS-effected families throughout that difficult beginning phase.
Because of these experiences, her sons have an elevated maturity above 99.9% of teenagers. As she says below, Tristan, his younger brother Aidan and their older sister Kaitlin "had to grow up fast".
Through it all, the Leigh family grew stronger, their love forged during these trials: you can be assured Tristan plays every snap with a ferocity dedicated to helping his mom.
Now as the spotlight of the football world falls upon the commitment of her son, the #1 ranked offensive lineman in the country, we turn it back on to her, the mother who made Tristan who he is today:
Get to know Laura as she bravely opens up about her fight vs Multiple Sclerosis for the first time:
LONN: How's everyone doing? Everyone okay?
LAURA: Yes- doing well. My multiple sclerosis has been acting up but other then that doing well. The boys are on the field a lot
LONN: I had absolutely no idea you had MS.
LAURA: It’s ok- it’s one of the reasons why we fell in love with LSU. I was at the game and my seat was on one of the top rows. I couldn’t get up the stairs and the fans and players' parents got out of their seats to help me up the stairs. Nicest people ever. I am really lucky. My boys can physically lift me up when I am having issues. They are great. They know when I’m having issues sometimes before I do.
LONN: I thought Aidan and Tristan were so mature, now I know why.
LAURA: They are. They have an older sister Kaitlin and she is amazing as well. She is at JMU and has literally left school at times to come help me.
LONN: This has always been about far more than football for Tristan, I could feel that from him when I talked to him. He was intense about taking care of you.
LAURA: He is. We have been just the four of us- Tristan, Aidan and Kaitlin for years- they learned the meaning of team early because we had each other. I have worked two jobs for as long as I can remember so they have had to step up and be mature early. They look out for each other.
LONN: For those who don't know, what is M.S?
LAURA: M.S is a disease where there is a breakdown of your Myelin Sheath which is the protective covering of your nerves. Everyone has different symptoms. Stress and temperature changes make it worse. You develop lesions on your brain and depending on where your lesions are, it affects what parts of your body are affected.
LONN: When did you first know you had Multiple Sclerosis?
LAURA: For me, I was coaching my daughters' all star soccer team in 2011 and I lost my balance and fell. That year, I broke my legs twice falling. I then developed a head tremor. My balance has been an issue since.
I remain active, I love home improvement and still do so, but everything has become harder as the diseased has progressed. I used to work out daily, now I am happy to be able to walk. Some days I need a walker.
I gained weight from the decreased activity level which makes it harder. I still can lay floors, I just recently put in new doors and remodeled a bathroom but I have to have help getting off the floor.
Throughout the years I’ve been on Interferon and chemo-like medications to slow the progression.
The side effects are sometimes worse then the disease. I still have to be patted down at airports because a medicine that I had to inject myself with for years is still trapped in parts of my body and lights up the scanner.
My children are awesome. They know when we fly there's a chance I can't walk when we get there. When we went to Oklahoma in August, we got off the plane and had to find a store to get a walker.
But it has also been a blessing- I never take any days or any steps for granted. I know everything we do could be the last time and that is a gift.
We appreciate everything.
When Tristan's journey started, I started fixing up my house.
We are going to follow him to college. We can’t wait to watch his journey and to be a part of it.
LONN: Laura, is this what drives Tristan so much?
LAURA: That and us being on our own.
We have to give 100% to survive.
There was a time when I couldn’t afford school supplies. We literally gave everything for this. When he got his offers, I spent my savings, started working more at my second job and asked my brothers to donate their frequent flyer miles.
We spent about $30,000 on our trips over a year and a half. Last year we were counting change to pay for food but had these awesome trips. My boys never complained. They were grateful for the experience. I remember staying in a hotel that was so dirty that there was a blood stain on the wall. I started crying and Tristan put his arm around me and said "dont worry- it’s all good. There are people who have to live like this all the time. We’ve got this." He never complained. He was always excited for the opportunity.
LONN: That is beautiful...that's what it's all about. How long did it take the doctors to catch your M.S? Was it misdiagnosed?
LAURA: It took a few years to be diagnosed which is common with M.S. It took a few years for it to show up on the MRI. I saw several Neurologists that said it must be anxiety. I would reply "anxiety doesn’t cause you to keep falling and breaking your legs". Finally, I found a great Neurologist who diagnosed me and was able to get me on treatment to slow the progression. We are in a good place now.
LAURA: (in response to Dreammakers photo of Tristan and Aidan) They went to an M.S kids camp for years. They loved it there. They got to be surrounded by kids who’s parent had M.S as well. DreamMakers was a group that would let us do activities with other families like us. Great people.
Tristan wants to use his platform for M.S, he knows that awareness can lead to a cure. He’s a good kid- can’t wait to see where he goes. He has a heart of gold. So does Aidan.
I am proud of it (having & overcoming M.S): Having two jobs now and coaching when the kids were younger was awesome. This year has been rough. I have lost a lot of my walking.
One of the reasons that Tristan and I traveled so much to these schools is we appreciate every day that I can walk.
We made great memories.
LONN: What would you want people to know most about those afflicted with MS and what each of us can do to help fight multiple sclerosis ?
LAURA: When their dad left after 18 years of marriage and realizing we were on our own.
Having a chronic illness doesn’t define who you are. It’s not a weakness and sometimes it can be a strength.
I am so grateful for my journey- without their dad, I wouldn't have them.
Without the struggles, they might not be where they are.
Everyday is a struggle with my MS, but everyday that I can walk is a win.
DONATE TO FINDING A CURE FOR MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS, TODAY:
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2020 Uninterrupted Writings Inc LLC
SHOUTOUTS: Laura, thank you for trusting me enough to tell your story. Tiger Nation is here for you!
Also dedicated to those I know battling physical ailments, my fiancee Chelsea I love you babe; Jamer is tough as steel! Maryrose you're a fighter too!