Multiple sclerosis program offers support

March 31, 2009 8:18:55 AM PDT
A new support program at NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases is aiming to make life a little easier for people with multiple sclerosis, a disease where the body attacks its own brain cells. And programs like NYU's can help MS patients like 30-year-old Ronald Thompson, who developed the disease seven years ago. He wears a pump that drips medication around his spinal cord to help relax his cramped muscles. While drug treatment can be effective, there is no cure yet.

"When I was walking, I would trip, and there would be nothing there, and I wondered what I was tripping on," Ronald said.

Ronald tripped because his legs were weak. Now, he needs a wheelchair to help him get around. His painful muscle cramps were finally treated best by the drugs in his pump. His mother Andrea has MS, too. There's a hereditary component to the illness, especially between mothers and sons and brothers and sisters.

There's also a special risk in the African-American population.

"They appear to develop a much more severe form of the disease, and that's particularly true in young males, as in Ronald's case," said Dr. Joseph Herbert, with NYU Hospital for Joint Disease.

Some patients also have trouble moving and getting around. The NYU program can also help them deal with isolation caused by that lack of mobility. At the center, patients can play games as a way to socialize and enjoy each other's company.

"Staying at home, even if you're typing on a keyboard, is not good," patient Michael Roeder said.

Sasha Phillips agrees.

"I get to meet people going through the same things I'm going through," Phillips said.

"It's very therapeutic, the games, learning strategy," patient Laura McFarlan said. "It's helping me get back some of what I've lost."

While programs like this can be helpful, it's the scientific breakthroughs that will truly change how MS patients cope. Dr. Herbert says the next real advance may be stem cell treatment. While there are serious risks, initial experiments using stem cell treatments are promising.

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WEB PRODUCED BY: Maura Sweeney


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