Diagnosed with the disease last October, the 21-year-old reserve for the Coyotes has adopted an upbeat attitude that only comes natural for her.
"It wasn't that I was scared at first; I just didn't know much about it," the Beresford native said following an afternoon practice earlier this season. "When you hear about it, you assume the worst.
"But there's nothing I can do now but stay positive and live with it."
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system and affects around 400,000 people in the United States. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50 – with women twice as likely to have the disease.
Considering the gravity of her situation, Carda's parents say they are more than delighted with how she's handled the disease.
"It was like getting kicked in the stomach," said her father Jerry Carda, a USD alumnus. "I remember thinking, 'how could this happen to her?' But now it's just amazing how well she's handled this and how optimistic she is."
"The thing with Natalie is that she controls this, it doesn't control her," her mother Heidi Carda said. "She handles it very well."
For Carda, it all started with numbness, dizziness and back pains – nothing to cause much concern with her or those close to her. As the junior reserve said, those early symptoms weren't cause for such alarm.
"I didn't really think anything of it, because they always went away," said Carda, who spent one season at South Dakota State before transferring to USD in 2006. "I always just played through it."
Yet, an incident in the DakotaDome last fall changed everything. While taking part in a basketball workout, Carda got another dizzy spell, but this time collapsed to the turf.
Although she jokes that the embarrassment was worse than the actual fall, the incident was much more serious than anybody could have imagined.
"I hadn't ever felt anything like that before," said Carda. "That's when I got really scared; something was just not right."
Even the USD training staff – with Katie Forsyth, who is assigned to the women's basketball team – didn't know what to make of Natalie's situation.
"When Katie looked at Natalie, the signs and symptoms didn't add up for her to simply fall," said Bruce Fischbach, USD's head athletic trainer. "A light went off for Katie that something was really wrong."
After Dr. Roy Mortinsen at Sanford Vermillion Medical Center found lesions on Natalie the following Monday, he recommended she see a neurologist in Sioux Falls. Despite a belief that she may have had a brain tumor, MRI tests later confirmed that Carda did in fact have MS.
"I was confused right away. It came out of left field," said Carda's brother, Nick, a first-year law student at USD. "All of a sudden it was MS; we were just happy it wasn't a brain tumor."
Of the four forms MS can take, Carda has a mild relapsing-remitting form of the disease, which is by far the most common type. People with this form experience distinct flare-ups – like the one Carda suffered in the Dome.
"It was definitely a lot to take in one week," Natalie said. "But I guess it was good that I found out soon."
The most amazing thing about that week, Carda's mother says, was just how fast the diagnosis came. From the time she fell in the Dome, to the time lesions were found, to the final test results, not even a full week had elapsed.
"There are people who can go 10 years without being diagnosed; that's the crazy part," Heidi Carda said. "We credit that to great doctors. Maybe it was a blessing, too."
The treatment Carda goes through now is giving herself a shot three times a week. Keeping with the same positive attitude, she says she doesn't mind administering shots but at first was apprehensive.
"The weirdest part is giving them to myself," she said, with a smile. "It's actually not hard to deal with. The only difficult part is actually sticking yourself with a needle."
While there may not be too many college athletes currently playing with MS, there is one person whom Carda has pinpointed as an inspiration – someone who hasn't let a physical setback prevent them from living the same life.
Dylan Fischbach, son of USD head trainer Bruce Fischbach, is as well-known around Coyote athletics as flamboyant mascot Charlie Coyote. What makes Dylan such a motivation is his battle with one leg. At the age of two, his right leg was amputated and he now uses an artificial limb to move around.
"That's neat for his mother and I to know he's having an impact," Bruce Fischbach said. "He certainly influences the two of us. He doesn't back down from anything."
Recently the 12-year-old Vermillion seventh grader showcased his skill in wheelchair basketball at an exhibition game in the Dome. Not only does excel in what his father calls "legs basketball," he dabbled in tackle football last season.
"He's such an inspiration for Natalie to see him moving around all the time," Heidi Carda said. "He's so busy being 12 years old that he doesn't have time to complain about it."
The ability to walk, let alone run around like Dylan, was something Carda said she wasn't sure she'd ever be able to do again. As she said, there may be certain myths and beliefs surrounding a disease like MS.
"When I didn't know much about MS, I just thought about what I couldn't do," Carda said. "But when you learn more about it, you find out that you can do everything you used to be able to do."
"A lot of people equate MS with being in a wheelchair," Nick Carda said. "It's good to know she can deal with it and live with it. She's handled this a lot better than I could."
Future With MS
At only 21 years of age, Carda has the luxury – as she says – of benefiting from a possible cure.
For now, her family continues to be amazed at how she has handled MS.
"She's kept the same life and hasn't let this thing completely change her," Nick Carda said. "It makes her want to battle it even more."
"She just wants people to know that you can live with the disease and keep your same routine," Jerry Carda said. "She's all the more compassionate now."
Asked how her life has changed in the past four months, Carda was quick to point out that, in many ways, it hasn't. Living with MS simply gives her a greater appreciation for the smaller things in everyday life.
"I don't complain about as much stuff anymore," Carda says. "I feel like I'm tougher now.
"Having MS doesn't change how I live my life, it just makes me appreciate things a lot more. You can't take anything for granted, that's for sure."