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Molly's story: Living with painful genetic disorders while finding purpose in teaching

Kindergarten teacher, Molly Lichtenstein, walks to raise awareness for Chiari Malformation and Syringomyelia.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — A new school year has begun for students and teachers in Montgomery County. Kindergarten teacher, Molly Lichtenstein brings enthusiasm and love to her kindergarten class at Woodfield Elementary School each day, while quietly battling genetic disorders that put her in constant pain. 

When WUSA9's Sharla McBride stopped by her class, Molly was busy reading to anxious five-year-olds. She captivated their attention and knew just what to say to keep them invested in the day's lesson. 

"Anyone notice a theme to this book? Let me read the next page and see if you can catch on," Lichtenstein said as she read to her students. 

"She's very dedicated, she's very excited about what she does. Despite all the things that she's had to go through with her physical health," fellow kindergarten teacher Lacey Bruno said. 

Her principal, Stephanie Brant feels a similar sentiment toward Molly. "You know what I love best about Molly, is that she's a model of perseverance here," Brant said.

Molly finds purpose in teaching. She spends her days molding young minds in the classroom while educating others about what she battles every day out of the classroom. 

"I have Chiari Malformation and Syringomyelia," Lichtenstein said. "There's no cure, and I have a lot of issues, so the pain is always going to be there and somedays are not good ones."

Chiari Malformation occurs when the skull is too small for the brain, forcing brain tissue downward and causing extreme pain, daily. "The majority of my pain is in my head and neck. I have rods from skull to C4," Lichtenstein said.

Syringomyelia causes cysts on her spinal cord. Molly has already undergone 61 surgeries since her diagnosis 13 years ago. When asked if she would need any more surgeries she said, "I actually had an appointment this summer and was told by my doctor that they can't do anything more without killing me." 

Molly was first diagnosed at 16. She was a soccer star then with dreams of playing in college when a minor game injury led to this major life-altering diagnosis. "Everything I thought I knew of my life, what my plans were, were dissolved," Lichtenstein said upon learning she wouldn't be able to play soccer anymore.

During a walk, after classes this fall, she traced the steps she takes every September at Bretton Woods Recreation Center in Germantown, MD to raise awareness for her rare genetic disorders. "My options are to curl up and cry, or come out and do things like this to try to raise awareness and funds for research and potentially better treatment," Lichtenstein said.

When Molly walks, she never walks alone. On Saturday, Sept. 17th, she'll be joined by what she calls 'Molly's Army of Angels' on her 8th Annual ASAP Walk and Roll for a Cure. Molly focuses each day on what she can do and chooses to relish in life's small moments that make a big difference. 

"It's just taking that step, then sometimes another step, and then eventually things come together," Lichtenstein said on her sunny walk. "When you stop and think about the day we're having right now, it's a gift, and I'm very lucky to be living it."

Click here for more information on how to sign up to walk with Molly and her 'Army of Angels'. 

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