Despite setbacks, GTCC grad Sierra Hairston leads charge in fight against multiple sclerosis

Published on: June 13, 2022
The 31-year-old Hairston has become an MS advocate, content creator, and volunteer.
The 31-year-old Hairston has become an MS advocate, content creator, and volunteer.

Life has thrown some mighty roadblocks in Sierra Hairston's direction, but with hard work and faith, she always figured out a way to roll right past them and maintain control of her life.

In the fall of 2015, this Guilford Technical Community College graduate began to fall down occasionally. First, she brushed it off, chalking it up to clumsiness.

Months later, the symptoms worsened for Hairston, who had finished graduate school and was working as a licensed clinical social worker associate. In addition to the falls, she began to experience vertigo and a loss of coordination in her legs. Then the nightmare hit.

"One night in February, I walked up the steps and I couldn't get in the back door. I had to have my mom help me get in bed. She's a registered nurse and she did an assessment on me. I couldn't feel my legs.

"I was so afraid. How could I go from walking normal, having a normal life, to not having control of my body? I always made sure I took care of myself. I stayed out of trouble. I didn't put alcohol or drugs in my body. When I didn't have control of my body, it was awful."

Hairston met with her doctor and then consulted a neurologist who ran a battery of tests and ordered an MRI. The results? "I had three lesions on my brain, one the size of a grapefruit."

She was diagnosed with Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis. Her health quickly deteriorated after the diagnosis.

"I lost the ability to walk. I couldn't eat. I had a swallowing disorder. I could only eat soft pieces of bread, soft foods, nutrition shakes, and fruit cups. My health care team, physical therapy, prayers, and support got me through it all," she said.

With an intensive regiment of treatment, plus lots of prayer and support, the two lemon-sized lesions on the back of her brain disappeared, and the grapefruit-sized lesion became the size of a peanut.

"I'm a spiritual person. One night after my injections, I asked God in prayer if he was going to heal me, and if not, how did he want me to live my life. Miraculously when they gave me a second MRI in September 2016, the lesions on the back of my brain were barely visible," said Hairston.

"My faith has gotten me through. I can't lie. I was very angry with God. How is it I got through school with no trouble? How is it I was struck down with this illness? The first year, I was very angry with God. Nevertheless, I persevered, and my physical condition is stable. I have incorporated exercise and diet to improve my physical health."

But what she knew as normal is gone from Hairston's life. She had to give up her career as a social worker. It was a dream job that started with three years of study at GTCC, then another two years at North Carolina A&T for a bachelor's degree, followed by two years of study at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro for a master's degree.

Hairston withdrew from the world and did very little. Her mom came to the rescue.

"My mom kept encouraging me, kept saying others are worse, and you are complaining. Sierra, embrace your gifts, talents, and passion for helping people."

It would be the second time that GTCC served as a compass of sorts for Hairston, helping her find direction.

The first time came just after Hairston graduated from high school in 2008. Most of her friends were headed off to four-year schools, and that's what Hairston had hoped to do with the social work career as her final goal. Her scholastic aptitude test scores, though, would not allow her to make that move. GTCC was the next option.

"When I got to GTCC, the staff at GTCC were willing to set me down and tell me the importance of investing in my education now," said Hairston. "They helped me out so much at GTCC. I know I struggled really bad in math. I had to repeat several classes.

"Teachers were willing to sit down with me and help me. They urged me to get tutoring help. The adults in the classroom helped me focus more. They had families. They had kids, and they wanted to get it done. I stepped up my game to keep up with them."

Hairston felt right at home when she enrolled at GTCC a second time after the MS diagnosis.

"GTCC is the reason I have been so successful. I learned good study habits, how to find and utilize resources, and being an effective leader."

The 31-year-old Hairston has become an MS activist, content creator, and volunteer to educate and motivate people with or without the disease by sharing her wellness journey. Hairston connects with hundreds of people in person and online through volunteering and advocacy work. One way she reaches people living with multiple sclerosis is through her YouTube Channel.

Hairston, who has received recognition from the National MS Society, is taking her role as an activist a step further with the release of a book later this year entitled "Multiple Sclerosis: A Bitter Battle with an Uninvited Party Guest." It is a detailed look at the challenges of living with MS and how she developed resilience through adversity.

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