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Evaluation could lead to stem cell transplant for Midland woman

A Midland resident is raising money for an evaluation that would put her in line for a dangerous but possibly life-changing stem cell transplant later this year.

Jennifer Hodson was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2007 while living in Las Vegas with her husband, Mark. Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system.

“It’s a lot of fatigue. Every patient is different so it’s hard to assume what someone else is going through even if we have the same diagnosis,” Jennifer Hodson said. “I have a hard time keeping things straight and finding the energy to do the things I’d love to be able to do.”

The medical revelations did not stop there; shortly after being diagnosed, the couple discovered they were expecting their first child.

The first few years

The first medication to fight the MS caused her to miscarry. It was one of the worst parts of her battle with the chronic disease, the 35-year-old Hodson said. She said she stays inside because she could not drive anywhere and is slowly losing the feeling in her limbs.

“It’s been a ride,” Hodson said. “It gets to the point where I can’t write my own name, and I can’t walk well. I just sit all day. It hasn’t been that way in awhile but it can be.”

Those symptoms were abated by the second medication Hodson tried, an intravenous infusion called Tysabri she has used at least three times since being diagnosed. Not covered by her insurance, Hodson travels to Farmington Hills every four weeks to receive the Tysabri treatment.

“The medication I am on is very effective but also carries some very serious risk,” Hodson said. “The treatment could kill the patient.”

Tysabri is used to slow down the symptoms associated with MS but it also increases the risk of a rare brain infection that has no known cure or treatment, according to the Tysabri website.

It is also associated with certain risk factors that develop over time and has prompted Hodson to look at more permanent and long-term solutions. There are several medications on the market but nothing comparable to the lasting effects of a stem cell transplant, Hodson said.

“Why not go for the stem cell transplant and be done with it?” Hodson said. “I would rather look at something that’s 10 to 15 years effective and not four years effective.”

The possible solution

It was through Facebook that Hodson discovered Northwestern University’s Dr. Richard K. Burt, who is running clinical trials and recruiting patients for stem cell transplants.

Hodson was invited to the campus for an evaluation and hopes she meets the criteria and is selected for the stem cell transplant portion.

“I feel like I meet that criteria, which would include having had a relapse in the last year, under the age of 55, and you have to have relapsing remitting MS,” Hodson said. “It has to be an active disease.”

Applying has required some extensive paperwork and comes with a hefty bill; Hodson said the procedure can cost anywhere from $125,000 to $200,000 depending on if the patients experience any complications.

“Every patient is different,” Hodson said.

There is also a risk Hodson will not be chosen to receive a stem cell transplant and will instead continue on a FDA-approved treatment like Tysabri or Lemtrada.

She has already looked into receiving a stem cell transplant in countries like Germany, Italy, Israel and Singapore but said she would prefer to go through the major procedure in the United States.

“There are patients going there that weren’t approved for the trials, cashing in retirement plans and refinancing houses,” Hodson said. “We don’t have anything like that at all. We are trying to fundraise right now just to go for the evaluation.”

Her evaluation appointment could be scheduled as early as August or September but Hodson needs help to cover the $2,000 she estimates it will cost to travel to and stay in Chicago.

She has already raised about half of the $2,000 from donations to her YouCaring page.

A family struggle

Hodson and her family moved back to Midland in 2014 to be closer to her side of the family, including her parents and siblings.

“It’s been a lot to handle,” Hodson said.

For her husband, Mark, it has meant picking up the slack at home and taking care of their daughter while working more than 50 hours a week.

“I literally do not get to come home and help out with anything at home, it’s a very big challenge,” he said. “The usual day-to-day people are used to, none of that stuff ever really gets done.”

While he says it has been a challenge to see his wife struggle with MS, he is hopeful the evaluation in Chicago could lead to a stem cell transplant and a positive change in health for his wife.

“We’ve been talking about this now for somewhere between six months and a year,” he said. “I want her to go through it. It’s a whole new experience with her.”

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by OURMIDLAND
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length
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