Like Riding a Bike: Jessica Coe '05, G'06, DPT'09

An MS diagnosis taught Jessica Coe '05, G'06, DPT'09 to stay balanced and keep moving.

Team Jessters members gather during the 2008 City to Shore Bike for MS.
Team Jessters members gather during the 2008 City to Shore Bike for MS.

Jessica Ranson Coe ’05, G‘06, DPT ’09 chose Scranton because its Physical Therapy program enjoys a reputation for excellence. The University’s swim team was an added bonus for the standout swimmer from Notre Dame High School in Pennsylvania. She envisioned her college life as one brimming with both scholarly and athletic activity. Her first two happy, uneventful years at Scranton went as planned. In her junior year, her life’s orderly design completely and unexpectedly collapsed.

“At the start of my junior year, I signed up to run Race for the Cure in Scranton. I’d done it before and really enjoyed it,” she said. It was one race she never ran. “I started to have blurred vision in my left eye. At first, I thought it would go away. When it didn’t, I went to see an eye doctor.” After listening to her symptoms and running some tests, doctors gave Coe a diagnosis that both shocked and terrified her. She had multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disease that attacks the central nervous system.

As she was grappling with the diagnosis, she suffered complications from a spinal tap and was missing a lot of class. “I was overwhelmed and very frightened,” she said. “Just a few days before, I was mostly thinking about hanging out with my friends; now I was facing a lifelong disease and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish the DPT program.”

Coe chokes up a bit when she talks about what happened next. “Dr. (Gary) Mattingly and Dr. (Peter) Leininger taught me classes at 8 p.m. Dr. (Barb) Wagner sat with me the first time I had to give myself an injection. If they hadn’t helped me, it would have been impossible for me to continue.” With their help, she earned her DPT and began a career she loves with Hamilton Physical Therapy Specialists in Mercer County, N.J.

Scranton faculty weren’t the only people in Coe’s life who touched and surprised her. Her future brothers-in-law started pedaling the City to Shore Bike for MS, a 75-mile ride that begins in Cherry Hill, N.J., and ends in Ocean City, N.J. Since the initial ride in 2004, Team Jesster makes an appearance every year, with jester caps affixed to their bike helmets, in support of Coe.

Coe’s MS is a type known as “relapsing, remitting,” meaning she has flare-ups that gradually go away. Fortunately, there have been only two years when Coe has had to sit the ride out due to such flares.

“Team Jesster will usually have between 10 and 30 riders,” she said. “It’s such a nice ride, people all along the way come out and hold signs and cheer. I usually spend the whole ride crying. One thing I’ve learned from MS: People will surprise you with their kindness.”

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