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New Mom With MS Works to Stay Healthy for Two
Tiffany Winter is motivated to stay healthy for her son and her desire to pay it forward to the MS community.
By Stephanie Stephens
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Tiffany Winter, 31, knows a lot about tattoos, having managed her brother Ceasar’s Black Ink Tattoo Studio in New York City and made occasional appearances on the VH1 docu-series,Black Ink Crew, based on life at the tattoo studio.
Winter, currently living in Miami, also knows a lot about multiple sclerosis (MS), having been diagnosed at age 22.
Symptoms Started With Her Eye …
Winter experienced her first MS symptom at age 20, when she temporarily lost vision in her left eye — likely because of optic neuritis, an inflammation of the optic nerve.
"At that age, I thought I was invincible,” remembers Winter. “My MRI showed nothing, so I didn't pursue anything further, since it cleared up on its own."
She was working at a bank at the time and says she covered the eye that was "seeing gray" while driving the 45 minutes to work, so she could see more clearly overall. The vision problem persisted for four months, then went away on its own.
In addition to working, Winter was going to school at the University of Buffalo, in upstate New York, and closing on her first house. Winter wondered whether her eye problem was the result of stress, but says she just didn't feel all that stressed. But she did feel very perplexed.
RELATED:What You Need to Know About Optic Neuritis
… And Went on to Her Foot
A year later, Winter began having problems with her right foot, most noticeable when she was wearing heels. "I started to hold on to walls a lot," she says. "Really strange, because I am a former dancer."
It got to the point that Winter had to use a wheelchair at times, and she additionally developed slurred speech.
"My then-boyfriend thought maybe I was drunk in the morning," says Winter.
When she began having problems with bladder control, she had finally had enough, and went to the emergency clinic on campus. Her attending physician there promptly sent her to the local hospital's emergency department, and there, a second MRI showed lesions on her brain, confirming the presence of MS.
No Meds and Little Meat
When it comes to medication, initially Winter injected Avonex (interferon beta-1a) but found it left her unable to function at her peak for three to four days a week. She also tried the oral therapy Tecfidera (dimethyl fumarate) but was unable to tolerate it, so she's chosen to remain medication-free since 2013.
"My doctors don't like it so much," she says, "but I personally believe healing is about more than medicine. I eat well, I take good vitamins and supplements, and I believe in God."
She calls herself a "fake vegan," who eschews meat unless she's with Jamaican family and friends who have fixed the traditional dish, curry goat. "I might have a spoonful, but I don't eat meat for my own health reasons."
Winter gets creative with cuisine, eating lots of avocados because they're rich in nutrients, including healthy fats and fiber. She eats spelt flour spaghetti — spelt is in the wheat family and is sometimes tolerated by people who have trouble digesting wheat, but it is not gluten-free. And of course, she's a fan of kale, as well as all other healthy, colorful vegetables.
Happy Mom to Maceo
Three months ago Winter had her first child, a bouncing baby boy named Maceo. After what she describes as a normal pregnancy, Winter was in labor for 25 hours and refused any anesthesia.
"My mom helped me with managing my contractions, just telling me to breathe," says Winter. "After about 20 hours, I couldn't really feel my legs any more while the doctor was telling me to hold them a certain way. After the baby's birth, it took about eight hours for all the feeling to return."
She says she loves being a mom. "It's just amazing. My partner and I work really well together as parents. He's so supportive and helpful."
Now she's focused on her little one's future.
RELATED:Why Women With MS Feel Better During Pregnancy
Winter Works on Her Health 'for Two'
Winter says she’s sometimes stymied by her lack of mobility. She has lately been challenged by occasional "knee-buckling spasms," for which she sees a physical therapist and occupational therapist regularly. But she is readying to start water aerobics and is optimistic about that being a form of exercise that will work for her.
"I was very physically active for years," she says. "I still get very fatigued, but not as much as I used to. I want to try and be better for myself, and my young child, because there's just so much I'd like to be able to do with him. That's been a huge motivator for me to continue to try and make myself feel as good as possible."
Although she enjoys much of the notoriety of having appeared on a national hit TV show, Winter nurtures other creative goals too. "I would ultimately like to design furniture. I do some painting — oils in the abstract style — and that keeps me calm. I think I've really been an artist at heart forever."
Winter has been an active supporter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, attending local events when possible. While balancing her career, her family life, and more hopes and dreams, Winter also feels a responsibility to her fans and the MS community to pay it forward.
"I want to motivate more people with MS to know that they really can reach their ultimate goals," she says.
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