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Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain Can't Stop Student
by Katie Rollinson

Photo Courtesy MK Starr

MK Starr and her fiancee, Michael Proulx

On an ordinary day in chemistry class, Mary Katherine Starr's legs went numb. It altered her life irreparably.

Mary Katherine, who prefers to be called MK, had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic condition characterized by debilitating pain, when she was 15 years old. Despite the health risks, she was determined to go to college and receive her bachelor's degree.

Over the next 6 1/2 years, she attended four different schools, earned high honors, met the man who would become her fiancÚ and learned how to walk all over again.

She worked at numerous part-time jobs, tackled competitive internships, and did it all while dealing with incredible physical pain. Although she faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles, MK was determined to succeed.

Sound unbelievable?

She is.

It is impossible to tell by looking at her that she has been through so much. She stands 5'9" tall. Thin, chrome-framed glasses accent inquisitive eyes. It is rare to catch her without a smile, or a hilarious anecdote to tell.

In 2001, she was ready for a change. She enrolled at Wingate University in Wingate, N.C., a small liberal arts college with about 1,100 students. The school was 13 hours away from her home in Deep River, Conn., but MK longed for independence.

Her passion for singing and music led her to apply to Wingate's music/business dual degree program, but shortly after school began she decided to abandon music and transfer into the chemistry/business program.

"Once I realized that I would have to audition for the music department, my direction changed really quick," she said. "I hate auditioning, but I loved chemistry."

By the end of her freshman year, MK had earned academic honors, a close-knit group of friends, a new boyfriend, Michael Proulx, and a new job as a student mentor for incoming freshmen.

Sophomore year looked promising.

On the day that would change her life, MK sat in a chemistry lecture, taking notes. At the end of class, she tried to stand up and realized she could not feel her legs. She could feel her feet, but she could not stand, and she began to panic.

Her professor called an ambulance. She was taken out of class in a wheelchair and brought to an orthopedist's office, where she underwent X-rays and an MRI. Doctors blamed her paralysis on a severe flare-up of fibromyalgia, although she had never had a severe flare-up before. She was told to return home to Connecticut, where she would endure four months of painful, progressive physical therapy in order to walk again.