COLUMBIA — Michelle Butler heard her phone ring at 7 a.m. the day after her 19th birthday. Her mother, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 18 years ago, had an infection but refused to be taken to the hospital.
Despite her age, Butler, a redshirt freshman on the Missouri women's golf team, had to handle the situation.
She was given power of attorney in June so that she could legally do what she had done for years, take care of her mother. When there are problems, the nurses at her mother's assisted living home in Florida contact her.
“Sometimes I feel like I have the responsibility of a 50-year-old,” said Butler, whose parents are divorced.
MS is a disease that attacks the brain and spinal cord and can result in paralysis or blindness. Butler says her mother's symptoms worsened eight years ago and she currently needs to use a wheelchair.
“I can handle what’s happening to her physically,” Butler said. “Watching her go mentally downhill is what’s hard. She forgot who I was on the phone.”
Still, Butler, the highest ranked women's golf recruit Missouri has had at No. 9 in her class, remains upbeat, almost chipper. When she tells her story she wears a smile. Her teammates have experienced her positive attitude ever since she joined the Tigers.
"She's such a positive person," said Kate Gallagher, a junior on the team and one of Butler's roommates. "I can go to her to pick me up if I'm feeling down. I don't know how she does it. She's amazing."
On her left wrist, Butler wears a bright orange rubber wristband that reads "multiple sclerosis awareness" in block letters. She never takes it off. On her golf bag she displays an orange ribbon.
Butler says she plays golf to honor her mother, and that despite everything that has happened, she has a lot to be thankful for.
That includes being able use the left side of her own body.
Complications from mono caused caused swelling in her brain, and for two weeks in March, she couldn’t move the left side of her body. Eventually she was given a high dosage of steroids and anti-seizure medication that brought back the feeling and the movement.
“The paralysis made me appreciate being able to brush my own hair and eat by myself,” Butler said.
Butler says that she may not yet have completely recovered. A week ago, she had problems moving her left hand again. She met with a neurologist Friday and stayed in the hospital overnight but expects to be ready for the Chip-N Club Invitational on Monday in Lincoln, Neb.
Head coach Stephanie Priesmeyer is excited to see Butler compete. Butler missed last season with a hairline fracture in her wrist after accidentally hitting a rock in the ground with a golf club. It seems trivial by comparison.
“She puts on this game face,” Priesmeyer said. “She’s got high expectations for herself as a player.”
Butler told Priesmeyer that her goals this year are to win the University of Central Florida Challenge, held near her hometown of Dunedin, Fla., on her way to becoming the Southeastern Conference’s freshman of the year.